“Occasionally leave the polish off so that your toes can breathe,” Solkin said. “Your nail is a growing, living organism and [the polish] can cause a blockage. Between the socks, the shoes, the sweat and pounding, you’re exacerbating all of that.” Skipping the pedicure a few times each year can help your feat breathe and air out.
For stronger feet, you can do a simple drill, Rea said. Sit on your sofa and put a towel below your bare feet. Grab at the towel, making fists with your toes, and pull it toward your heels. Repeat six times, five times a week to increase the strength of your toes, plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.
These aren't the same toe socks that kids wore in the 90s, but an updated design for athletes. If you have problems with blisters or athletes foot between your toes, these high performance toe socks from INJINI can help by cutting down on friction and keeping the foot dry between the toes, McMillan said.
“Ice your feet the way you would ice your legs,” Rea said. His athletes soak their legs and feet in cold water for 10-12 minutes to reduce micro-tearing and damage that can occur after even the easiest runs. “It’s amazing how much quicker you’ll find your feet recover,” he said.
Rather than cool the water before immersion, McMillan has a tip:
“Put your feet in water and then add ice,” he said. “This allows you to cool gradually. About 20-30 minutes in, it’s great.”
A little elevation can help drain the blood that may have pooled in your feet, McMillan said. As this blood moves back toward your heart, new nutrient-rich blood is pumped to your lower extremities.
Your feet must function differently for each activity, and choosing the right shoe for each purpose can help them, Rea said. For interval training or a tempo workout, Rea recommends a lighter, more flexible shoe; for a longer, easier run, a traditional training shoe with a thicker midsole is best. The rest of a day, ditch the running shoes and opt for something that provides good support.
When it comes to socks, material is key, Solkin said.
“Cotton doesn’t breath and when it gets wet it gets heavy,” she said. “Microfibers have breathability and wickability.” Make sure that the socks fit well and that you're wearing them on the correct foot (many high performance socks have a different design for the left and right foot).
“Blisters are formed by heat, friction and moisture, so you want to make sure those three components don’t get you,” Solkin said. If you’re prone to blisters despite wearing proper socks and shoes, Solkin recommends applying rubbing alcohol to your feet with a cotton ball before a run. This will help to keep your feet drier.
Many athletes deal with sore or black toenails, especially as they begin to train hard and do more downhill runs, Solkin said. To keep pain at bay, trim or file your nails regularly. This is easiest after a shower when the nail is soft.
A basic self-massage can help feet heal after a workout, Rea said. Rub lotion or Vaseline on your feet and use your thumbs to make long, deep tissue strokes on the bottom of the foot from the heel toward the pad along the plantar fascia. This can help to promote blood flow to the area before you ice and to heal micro-tears. For an extra restorative boost, Rea recommends a gel or ointment containing arnica.
High heels are probably the worst possible thing you could ever put on your feet, Rea said, explaining that these shoes tend to shorten the Achilles tendon and therefore affect the plantar fascia which runs along the bottom of the foot. This shift can make you more prone to injury. It's much easier for micro-tearing to occur when you then put running shoes on and the Achilles tendon and plantar open up, Rea said.
You don't need to go to a professional to pamper your feet, Solkin said. Solkin uses scrubs and lotion before bed and then sleeps with socks. This helps keep callouses at bay.
“Our toes move forward, backward and side to side, so we should make sure we maintain that full range of motion,” McMillan said. To stretch your feet, McMillan recommends rolling them on a Foot Log (although a can of vegetables or foam roller can also work) and manually moving the toes forward, backward, around and side to side.
Blisters can ruin even the most dedicated athlete’s workout, but there is a way to speed healing and limit discomfort, Solkin said.
“Sterilize a needle under a gas flame, puncture a tiny hole on the underside—the side closest to the ground—and gently push out the fluid that’s inside,” she said. “Wash it with warm soapy water and apply Neosporin and a Band-Aid.”
If you have a blood blister, these rules do not apply. Consult your doctor for advice on what you can do.