Calling All Runners: You Should Take Better Care of Your Feet. Here’s How.

Here are five ways to strengthen and loosen up your overworked soles.


Runners and fitness fanatics in general beat up on their feet during exercise. Here’s how to take better care of them. / Photograph courtesy of Getty Images

When the air grows colder and the leaves change color, we know fall is afoot. But the shift also signals that running season is upon us, with major races ranging from this past weekend’s Chicago Marathon to our own Philadelphia Marathon (November 24th) taking place.

And that means you’ve likely been beating up on the body parts that make it possible for you to train and compete: your feet. Frequently, we don’t give our soles enough stretching and strengthening love, even though they absorb most of the impact when we’re pounding the pavement or even taking a walk around the block. We work our glutes, our abs, our arms, our legs, but there is no “foot day” in most workout regimens. As Tyler Barton, the co-founder of Epic Chiropractic, told me, “Nobody trains their feet unless they’re told to.”

Well, now we’re telling you to — and not just to train your feet but to pay more attention to them. Don’t wait until you have open sores or plantar fasciitis to address the issue. Here are some easy ways to proactively take care of your feet and feel the benefits all the way up.

Do some foot (and toe and calf) stretches and strengthening exercises.


Calf tightness can cause extra pressure on your feet. / Photograph courtesy of Chris McKenzie

Simply because of the design of modern shoes, which tend to be taller in the back so they point our toes downward, more stress is put on our feet. If you’re a runner, it’s likely that you also overpronate, causing your arch to collapse. A simple way to counteract this is to do a towel curl, during which you lay a towel on a wooden or tile floor, so the fabric can slide easily, and use your toes to scrunch the towel toward you. Or keep your foot flat on the ground and try to lift up only your arch — no toes, no heel.

Lastly, especially if your big toe has started pointing toward your smaller toes, grab that sucker and pull it straight up to stretch it and the nerve and tendon that run from your toe down the bottom of your foot. You can also wear spacers (the kind you’d put between your toes when you paint your nails) at lunchtime or at night. “Particularly on days when you’re wearing those kinds of shoes or if you’ve worn those shoes for a couple days in a row,” says Chris McKenzie, the owner of McKenzie Sports Physical Therapy, “you need to start to reverse those stresses you’ve been putting on your foot.”


How to stretch your big toe. / Photograph courtesy of Chris McKenzie

When your calves are tight, your feet end up compensating more, too, so make sure to stretch those muscles as well. To do so, drop your heel off the top of a stairstep with your knee straight. Then try it with your knee bent. Three times for 30 seconds three times a day will loosen those muscles right up. (Check our Instagram story Wednesday night for videos of these stretches.)

Moisturize your feet.


This foot balm from local company Bolted from the Blue is great for sore feet. / Photograph by Mary Clare Fischer

You probably lotion up your legs after you shave, but your feet, especially the bottoms, are likely missing out on that soothing practice. We recommend Bolted from the Blue’s Rosemary Mint Foot Butter, a balm made of shea butter, cocoa butter, beeswax, menthol crystals, and rosemary, lavender, and balsam fir needle essential oils. In clinical studies, both menthol and rosemary have been found to reduce pain and inflammation and improve blood circulation. (And the balm’s minty, herby smell is an added bonus.) Tip: The directions say to use liberally, but you actually need very little; the menthol has a strong but delayed effect.

Get a foot massage.

Pedicurists often rub your calves and feet before clipping and painting your nails, yet destressing your muscles isn’t the point of the service. For a foot-focused treatment, head to Mi Cumbia in Rittenhouse for the Soothe & Soak calf and foot massage ($51 for 30 minutes). If you’re in the suburbs, our pick is West Chester’s Zazen Nail Spa for its sports pedicure ($41 for a 35- to 40-minute treatment), which is actually an Epsom salt footbath, a callus treatment, a peppermint-infused reflexology foot massage, and a warm paraffin mask.

Try Melt Method.


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This lesser-known technique utilizes small balls and soft rollers to reduce pain and tightness in your connective tissue, also known as fascia. (That’s where plantar fasciitis comes from.) While you roll your feet over small balls as part of this, it can actually improve issues in other areas of the body as well. After all, everything’s connected. Type your zip code into the Melt Method finder here to find an instructor in your area.

Buy better shoes.


PSA: Get better running shoes. / Photograph by Gary Brown

Sometimes, we’re simply the victim of poorly made footwear — or the type that shoves your foot down and squeezes your toes into a tiny space. I personally love these made-especially-for-women shoes from Ryka for walking, but we also created a guide to finding running shoes for the specific problem you face with your feet here.