Lorcan O’Donaille.

Tips on how to avoid foot pain

Lorcan O’Donaile is a podiatrist and owner of Achilles Foot Clinic . See achillesclinic.ie.

We all know the benefits of walking or running. This has never been truer than right now with Covid-19 and going in and out of lockdown.

Research shows that walking has significant benefits including physical, cardiac and arguably at the moment most importantly - huge mental benefits.

Thankfully most people are aware of the benefits and in my foot clinics we have found

a surge in the number of people walking and unfortunately getting subsequent foot and leg problems since coronavirus arrived on our shores.

I want to give advice on how to avoid foot pain and simple tips that will allow you to keep active during the coming months.

1. Footwear

One of the simplest things that you can do to avoid getting foot pain is to make sure that you're wearing footwear that gives your foot a chance.

There are three main things that we look for when it comes to footwear. Firstly it should be laced or fastened with Velcro. Slip on shoes do not give you enough support and will increase the likelihood of injury with increased walking you may do.

Secondly, it's usually a good idea, especially if you're not used to doing a lot of exercise, that you wear shoes that have a heel pitch of approximately 15mm (over 1 inch).

Thirdly, your footwear should flex at your big toe as this allows you to move forward through the big toe and spring off onto the next step in a more efficient way. The best footwear to wear in my opinion would be a good quality pair of runners or boots which fit the criteria I've mentioned.

Now you may have noticed I have not mentioned the arch height or arch control of your runners. The reason for this is is the research tells us that if you if you are not injured then wearing footwear that claims to control your arch heigh is of no benefit in injury prevention.

Lastly, it might seems obvious but stay away from shoes if they are worn. A new pair of shoes is much cheaper than a new foot!

2. Be flexible

There is significant research showing that if you have good muscular control and in particular good flexibility, your chances of getting injured are massively decreased. One of the most common injuries we would see with people who are new to walking or indeed running is shin splints. In most cases this is related to a lack of flexibility particularly in their calf muscles. I would strongly suggest that to keep yourself walking throughout the pandemic you work on your flexibility.

This can be done using online pilates or indeed yoga or simply by keeping moving every day. It is not enough to do a stretch before you go for a walk or afterwards - flexibility is something you need to maintain and personally I do so by doing regular online pilates. Think of it as ‘motion is lotion’.

3. Build up the distance slowly

It is amazing the distances that your body will allow you to either walk or run once it has adapted to doing so. However what we tend to find in our foot clinic with patients who present with foot pain because of increased walking, is that theses patients have gone too far or too fast too quickly.

You need to slowly build up your distance and your speed allowing your muscles and soft tissues to change and adapt to the exercise levels you're putting them under. Following a simple return to walking or return to running program like a Couch to 5km is an ideal way to build up the distance slowly and get you to your goal.

While I can empathize with those who want to go out and run 5km on their first day, this is a recipe for disaster and this approach is almost guaranteed to end with an injury.

4. Where you walk

If you're new to walking, I would strongly recommend that you consider avoiding inclines or cantered surfaces. In almost all circumstances you're better off to begin walking on a flat firm surface.

If this is not possible, then be sure to wear footwear that is supportive and perhaps even a boot that you can tie around the ankle. If you decide to walk in a short loop such as around the Lough make sure you turn around halfway and go the opposite direction to avoid strengthening one side of your body over the other.

5. Keep it up

The key to getting fit and avoiding foot pain while walking or indeed running is to build up slowly and to stay regular despite the weather. No matter where you go or how often you decide to go, you should keep a regular pattern of exercise. By doing this, it allows your body to adapt to the exercise regime you have chosen to follow.

I understand how much easier it is is to come up with an excuse to stay at home and sit on the couch when the wind is blowing or it's wet outside. The problem with this is your body will pay for this stop start approach with injury and pains.

6. Reward yourself

I know it might seem strange but the research tells us that if we make exercise fun or indeed give ourselves a reward at the end of exercise it reduces pain.

A tip I tell my patients when returning to walking after injury is when they finish their walk to give themselves a little pat on the back for having completed the exercise and to give themselves a little treat. This has been shown to improve our mental well being and reduce any pains or niggles you may get from walking.

Walking is a fantastic way to keep you physically and mentally fit and happy. It requires no equipment other than a decent pair of footwear and can be done within your 5km radius.

Remember no matter how slow you go, you were faster than those who were sitting at home on the couch!