Ask Stew: How Can I Reduce the Pain in My Feet When I Run or Ruck?

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naked feet
Airmen air out their feet during a Pre Ranger Assessment Course, Feb. 11, 2018, at Moody Air Force Base, GA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Janiqua P. Robinson)

Foot pain is a common ailment in the military due to rigid boots and dress shoes, many hours of walking and standing each day, long-distance running and rucking, and other load-bearing activities.

Here is a question from a newly minted Army soldier making the transition to Army life as a former athlete who was a civilian less than a year ago.

Mr. Smith, I have recently joined the Army and just finished Army Infantry School. Between the blisters and heel and arch pain, I am having issues rucking in boots and even running in running shoes. Is this just my feet needing to recover from training or is it more of a serious problem that I should get looked at by medical staff? Thanks, Sir.

First, thanks for serving and congratulations on graduating Army Infantry School. Becoming an 11B is not an easy journey, one that especially takes a toll on your feet and back.

There is a reason “foot care” is one of the most important mantras for the Infantryman MOS. The feet are your wheels in the infantry and perfectly-fitting boots, socks and running shoes are just as important as a properly-sighted weapon.

There are many things that can go wrong with your feet, so do consider not only help from senior enlisted on practical foot care, but also professional help from physical therapy or a medical consultation. The reason I recommended getting both practical and professional help is that there are 26 bones, more than 30 joints and ligaments, and over 100 tendons in each foot. The list of things that can go wrong with your feet is enormous and includes broken bones, tendonitis, bursitis (joint inflammation), plantar fasciitis, ingrown toenails and blisters.

You can also try these practical pieces of advice to help with the basics for foot care. If these do not help, it is time to visit the doctor and other medical professionals for more serious treatment.

Go barefoot or wear sandals

When you do not have to wear shoes or boots, go barefoot to allow the foot to move naturally and dry out. Moisture from sweat or walking through water during the day can make feet soft and susceptible to blistering so severe that it ends your ability to walk for a few days.

You need to dry your feet, keep wounds clean and move uninhibited by constrictive shoes or boots every single day and multiple times a day if possible. The end of the day ritual should be taking your boots off and drying out, stretching and massaging your feet.

Massage, stretch and flex

Your feet have twenty muscles in each foot. Stretching to aid in flexibility and building strength in them should be part of your warmup and cooldown each day, especially after long days of walking, running or rucking. Massaging the bottom of the feet with a tennis ball or lacrosse ball is helpful for sore arches, heels and balls of the feet. Use your toes like fingers to strengthen your feet. Grab clothing, walk in sand or on soft padding to help stretch and flex the foot during motion.

Properly-fitting shoes or boots and socks

Like your shoes and boots, you do not want your socks to be so loose that they cause more blistering, nor do you want them too tight due to the potential for pain, circulation loss and increasing your chance of frostbite in cold temperatures. Carry an extra pair of socks with you for changing out midday if wet, but also consider wearing an inner pair of thin, non-cotton, moisture wicking (non-cotton), and flexible socks.

Military-issued dress socks made of a rayon or polyester blend are a good layer against the thicker wool boot sock. With well broken-in boots and a double layer of socks, I personally never had a blister going through BUD/S training even when my feet were wet all day long.

Clean your wounds

Clean your feet with soapy water, dry them completely, put alcohol on any open sores and use athlete’s foot spray as a preventative measure. Do not put your shoes on again until you absolutely must. Treat blisters the same. However, if you have known hot spots on your feet, consider using products like 2nd Skin Blister Pads or even duct tape in a pinch if you have to put on boots and shoes soon.

If you are still having foot pain a few days after adding these daily habits to your foot care, go see a professional, as your situation could be more serious with hundreds of potential issues.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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