Foot Injuries and Walking

Walking can result in a variety of foot injuries, but most can be avoided by following the advice below. We've broken this information down by each part of the foot.

The toes. If you begin a walking program wearing shoes that are long on fashion and short on comfort, your toes will almost certainly let you know what a mistake you've made. Most toe discomfort results from poorly fitting shoes.

The length, width, and shape of your feet can -- and do -- change. With age, the ball of the foot tends to widen and the toes tend to spread. Therefore, you should have your feet measured each time you shop for shoes.

The size marked on a shoe doesn't really tell you whether it will fit your foot. Some manufacturers' sizes run large, while others run small. Select a design that matches the general shape of your foot as closely as possible. One way to do this is to trace your feet on a sheet of paper. Then, when you go to the store, compare your tracing to the bottoms of various shoes.

When you try on a pair of walking shoes, be sure they fit well in the toe area, too. One of your feet is probably larger than the other, and that bigger foot is the one you'll want to fit. Ideally, there will be a half-inch space between the end of the longest toe of your bigger foot and the inside end of the shoe.

Each shoe's "toe box" (the part of the shoe that cradles the toes) should be high, long, and wide enough to accommodate your toes comfortably.

Corns. Corns are small, round mounds of dead skin caused by friction. Hard corns, the most common type, are dry and found most often on the outside of the smallest toe or on top of the other toes; soft corns are moist and usually appear between the toes.

In some cases, you can relieve corns by opting for shoes with softer uppers and toe boxes that are wider, longer, and higher. Cushioned pads or insoles can also offer relief by shifting pressure away from corns. If these efforts do not provide relief, see a podiatrist. Never attempt to remove a corn yourself.

Ingrown toenails. Few things are more aggravating to a walker than ingrown toenails. Ingrown toenails are nails, usually of the big toe, that curve inward along the edges of the nail bed, causing pain, redness, swelling, and even bacterial infection.

To prevent ingrown toenails, you need to keep your toenails trimmed. However, be careful not to taper the nails or trim them too short in the corners. Instead, trim the toenails straight across with a nail clipper.

Ingrown toenails can be aggravated by toe boxes that are too tight, so switching to a shoe with a wider toe box may help to relieve discomfort. Soaking the affected toe in warm, soapy water may also provide temporary relief. If the area around the ingrown toenail is severely swollen and painful, see your podiatrist.

Bunions. A bunion is a deformity of the big toe joint in which the joint juts outward and the big toe angles inward toward the other toes. Although the tendency to develop this condition can be inherited, wearing pointy, high-heeled shoes or shoes that are too tight in the toe area can aggravate the condition. As the joint becomes more inflamed, the bunion grows and becomes more swollen, tender, and painful.

A podiatrist may begin treatment by having you wear wider shoes and by prescribing a custom-made shoe insert called an orthotic (also known as an orthosis). The orthotic is made to compensate for the abnormality in the foot's shape and to shift weight away from the problem area.

If the bunion is already very large and painful, and if it interferes with walking, then surgery is frequently the only way to relieve the problem. In bunion surgery, the toe joint is realigned and excess bone may be removed.

Hammertoes. Hammertoe is a deformity in which a toe (or toes) hooks downward like a claw. Although the tendency to develop this condition can be inherited, high heels or shoes that fit too tightly in the toe area can also cause the condition. If the toe is severely hooked and painful and interferes with walking, your physician may prescribe an orthotic to reposition your toe properly. A corrective surgical procedure can also be used to treat some cases.

More walking-related foot injuries, their causes, and prevention tips are included in the next section.

To learn more about walking, see: