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How to Protect Toes When Running and Playing Sports

Toes are among the most vulnerable body parts for active athletes, especially runners. Nails, bones, ligaments, joints—all are susceptible to both repetitive impacts and sudden, painful injuries. Blisters, corns, turf toe, broken bones, ingrown toenails, and more—we’ve seen it all.

While there’s no way to perfectly prevent an injury or condition from occurring, these tips can help protect your toes from damage as you enjoy your athletic pursuits.

Make space for your toes

Shoes that are too tight, especially at the front, are notorious for causing all sorts of problems for athletes. Toe injuries that can result from ill-fitting shoes include:

  1. Black toenails (or subungual hematomas), are caused by bruising or bleeding under the nail caused by repetitive impact with the front of the shoe.

  2. Ingrown toenails can result from tight shoes pushing the nail edges downward into the skin.

  3. Blisters and corns can develop over areas of intense or repetitive friction.

  4. Over the longer term, bunions and hammertoes might even develop from all the stress.

When you pick out a pair of shoes, make sure your toes have plenty of space to wiggle without slamming up against the inside or front of your shoe.

Avoid overly flexible soles

Different sports, of course, will require slightly different footwear design for optimal protection and performance. That said, stiffer soles offer far better protection for vulnerable joints. For example, turf toe, a common injury in field sports like football, occurs when the toe gets hyperextended—your weight goes one way while the toe remains planted. Stiffer soles are more likely to prevent this problem.

Let your feet breathe

Feet sweat a lot during activity, especially in the muggy Gulf Coast climate. Sweaty shoes and socks are a great recipe for athlete’s foot, or even fungal toenail infections, and they also increase friction. Remember: breathable materials are your friend, and change shoes and socks as regularly as necessary to keep them as clean and dry as possible.

Don’t let your running shoes overstay their welcome

We know you’ve made a lot of great memories together, but athletic shoes lose their cushioning and support over time (even if you don’t see any external damage to the shoe) and need to be replaced periodically, generally every few months or 300-500 miles, depending on wear.

Try some low-impact cardio

It’s simple math: the more often you pound on your feet, the more likely you are to injure them. In order to give your feet and toes a chance to recover from a long run or a tough game of basketball—but still keep your heart rate up—take a day where you go cycling, swimming, or weightlifting instead.

With the right gear and smart training decisions, toe injuries and damaged nails don’t have to be your constant companion! However, if you do hurt your toe or a toenail, the best course of action is to get it fixed right away so you can remain as active as possible, heal quickly, and minimize the risk of future complications. To make an appointment with Gulf South Foot & Ankle, please call (504) 708-4810 for our Metairie, LA location, or (985) 809-1464 for our Covington office.

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