What May Cause Foot Pain After Running

woman sitting on a rock with foot pain

Verywell

Are you feeling post-run pain in your arch, top of foot, toes, heel, side of foot, toenails, or maybe more than one spot? Foot pain is a common ailment among runners and also one that can be confusing because the causes and treatments for the pain can vary widely.

Some foot issues may require a doctor’s care, while others can be remedied with some rest and a change in your routine, such as changing your running shoes.

For some runners, foot issues are caused by non-running shoes (such as flip-flops), so be sure you’re wearing supportive, comfortable shoes even when you’re not running.

Where Does It Hurt?

Take a closer look at the descriptions below to determine possible causes and solutions for your foot pain.

If you’re dealing with one of these issues and you don’t see any improvement after a week or so of self-treatment, make an appointment with a physical therapist or doctor for evaluation and treatment.

Location of Pain: Arch of Foot, Heel

If you’re feeling a stabbing or burning pain in your arch, especially when you first step out of bed in the morning, you may have plantar fasciitis.

If you attempt to run, the pain may decrease and be more tolerable, but often comes back an hour or so after your run.

Plantar fasciitis can be associated with tight arches, tight calf muscles, or overpronation (your feet roll in too much when you run). It's more common among runners with flat feet.

Stretching your calf muscles can help relieve the arch tightness. You can also try rolling a golf ball under the arch for a half-hour once a day. This can help reduce pain and increase blood flow to the area.

It may hurt the first week, but you should see some improvement by the second week. If self-treatment doesn’t work, arch supports or orthotics may help to take the pressure off the plantar fascia.

Location of Pain: Toes

If you have toe pain when you're running, the culprit could be a bunion or a corn that's becoming irritated by your shoes.

Bunions

Bunions are a deformity of the joint at the base of the big toe. Under too much pressure, this joint can change in alignment, causing the bone to stick out on the side of the foot.

Getting rid of a bunion completely involves surgery to change the alignment of the big toe, but you can ease the discomfort without going under the knife.

First, make sure your shoes are not too small or too tight. Next, try to take pressure off the bunion. Your local drugstore probably sells bunion pads which will cover the bunion and pad the area around it to help take the pressure off the bunion itself.

In some cases, an orthotic may help relieve some of the pressure if it's fitted appropriately. If you're still feeling pain and discomfort, schedule an appointment with a foot and ankle specialist.

Corns

If you have changes on the skin with a hard, painful lump on your foot, you may have a corn, which is caused by constant rubbing and pressure from shoes that are too tight. Corns can also be a result of wearing shoes and sandals without socks, or wearing socks that don't fit properly or have rough seams.

For many people, once you eliminate the source of friction or pressure, the corn will disappear on its own. If that doesn’t work, you can try using a corn remover. 

Corn removers, which are sold at most drugstores, are small, adhesive bandages with a medicated, cushioned pad that fits over the corn.

The corn remover will provide some relief from the pain and discomfort, and the medication on it will also help dissolve the corn.

You can also use a pumice stone, nail file, or emery board to smooth away dead skin before applying a new patch, but try not to be too aggressive when doing this.

Talk to your doctor if it’s very painful, not going away, getting worse, or if you notice redness or any other sign of infection.

Location of Pain: Toenails

If your toenail is painful and dark, you may be dealing with a black toenail, or a subungual hematoma. They’re usually caused by the toes rubbing up against the front of the running shoe, usually because the shoes are too small.

If you have a black toenail it's best to leave it alone, as long as the pain is manageable.

The pain is usually the worst on the first day and then it gradually dissipates. The damaged part of the nail is gradually pushed off, and a new nail will replace it.

Don't try to force your old nail off—it will fall off on its own once the new nail comes in. If the black toenail is persistent or extremely painful, or you notice any infection or redness, consult your doctor.

To prevent future black toenails, make sure that you're wearing the correct running shoe size (at least half a size bigger than your street size; you should have plenty of room in the toebox).

Location of Pain: Top of Foot

If you feel pain on the top of your foot as you’re running, one of the causes can be extensor tendonitis. You may also notice swelling on the top of your foot and see a large bump along the tendon at its insertion.

Some common factors that are associated with extensor tendonitis are muscle imbalances such as very tight calf musclesovertraining or running hills.

Extensor tendonitis can also be aggravated by lacing your shoes too tight or wearing shoes that are too small or don’t fit properly. Check your running shoes to see if they’re creating a pressure point along the top of your foot.

If you’re doing a lot of uphill running, especially on a treadmill, that could put a lot of stress on your foot extensor tendons and lead to inflammation.

For mild extensor tendonitis, your best bet is to work on stretching all muscles including the muscles along the front of your shin, and stretching your calf muscle

Reducing the inflammation with ice or anti-inflammatories can help (talk to your healthcare provider for advice on taking anti-inflammatories).

You can also try self-massage using a massage tool such as a foam roller on tight muscles. You may need to take a couple of days off from running but, once the extensor tendon is no longer inflamed, you can often gradually increase your running without pain.

If your shoes are too tight: try changing your shoe lacing pattern and loosening your laces slightly. To relieve pressure on the top of your foot, try lacing your shoes across the shoe tongue in a ladder pattern, rather than in a typical criss-cross pattern.

In some more extreme cases of extensor tendonitis, a specialist may recommend custom-made orthotics or another treatment.

Location of Pain: Front of Foot (Numbness)

Numbness or a tingling sensation (unrelated to the cold weather) in the toes or foot is a common complaint among runners.

Often, the cause is wearing running shoes that are too tight or tying your shoelaces too tight. This can put pressure on a nerve in the foot or ankle and cause numbness.

If you think that you're wearing the correct running shoes for your foot size and gait and the problem persists, consult your doctor to look for other causes.

Location of Pain: Side of Foot

If you have pain on the side of the foot, whether on the inside or outside, one of the causes can be tendinitis (nflammation of a tendon) or a stress fracture.

These conditions are usually the result of overuse (such as increasing your mileage too quickly) or improper running shoes.

Tendinitis

Side of foot pain from tendinitis comes on slowly, gradually increasing over a few weeks or months, and tends to be worse first thing in the morning and with activity, easing with rest.

Mild tendinitis is usually remedied with icing in the first 24 hours and then a few days off from running.

If you’re dealing with significant pain, you may need to take a few weeks off from running. A foot and ankle specialist can help identify other causes and may prescribe a walking boot or physical therapy.

Stress Fractures

Another possible cause of pain on the side of your foot is a stress fracture. Just like in tendinitis, side of foot pain from stress fractures usually starts off mild and gradually gets much worse.

Eventually, you'll feel the pain even when you're not running. You may also notice tenderness and swelling.

If you have pain on the side of your foot and have tried self-treatment with no relief, talk to your healthcare provider. Early diagnosis is critical in cases of stress fracture, because the injury can eventually become a complete fracture of the bone.

Location of Pain: Skin on Bottom of Foot

If the skin on the bottom of your feet is hurting, you could be dealing with any number of issues, including blisters and athlete’s foot.

Blisters

Blisters, or small bubbles of skin filled with clear fluid, are very common among runners. If you have a blister and it's not painful, just leave it alone, since the skin serves as protection. It will eventually break and the fluid will drain.

If you develop a blister, cover the area with a product such as Band-Aid Blister Block or moleskin to protect against infection and provide cushioning.

If the blister is very painful, it's possible to have the blister drained. This should be done carefully in a sterile manner to avoid infection, particularly if you have any medical problems.

Athlete's Foot

Athlete's foot is a fungal infection that thrives in damp, sweaty places. Common symptoms of athlete's foot include itching, stinging, and burning between your toes and on your soles, extremely dry skin on the bottoms or sides of your feet, and peeling skin on your feet.

You'll need to treat athlete’s foot with an antifungal cream. Ask your health care professional or pharmacist for a recommendation of an over-the-counter or prescription cream.

Apply a thin layer of the product, once or twice a day for at least two weeks, or according to package directions. Consult a doctor if it doesn't clear up within a few weeks.

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Article Sources
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