Healthy feet means happier running: Tips from a podiatrist

Making our community a healthier place is a goal shared by the Tucson Medical Center and the Southern Arizona Roadrunners. TMC is excited to partner with SAR to bring you regular features and wellness tips designed to make your running the best it can be.

TVP_160623_7085Sometimes feet just don’t get the respect they deserve. But they’re surprisingly complex workhorses that make a huge difference in our quality of life, as well as our ability to lead active lifestyles.

Here are a few tips from Dr. Natalie Hua to keep those 26 bones and their associated muscles, tendons and ligaments in optimal condition:

It starts with the shoes. There are a lot of options in running shoes, from the thin layer of sole in minimalist options that make your foot muscles work extra hard, to options that provide the maximum support. Whichever version you like, the key is to invest in a good pair of running shoes. Quality running stores will have you run on a treadmill to look at your foot patterns and recommend some options for you. Go toward the end of the day when your feet are most swollen to get the right measurement. Make sure your shoes are wide enough and that there is a two-finger width from the longest toe to the toe box. Here’s an important tip: If you find some you love, stock up, because companies change styles and models with great frequency.

You’ll want to change your shoes about every 300 miles, because fatigue and pain are associated with insufficient cushion and support.

And if you need orthotics, Tucson Orthopaedic Institute has staff that will help you find the right ones, based on your arch. If they don’t work, an exchange or full refund is available. Custom orthotics are also offered at TOI.

Get the right socks.  Blisters are often triggered because of friction on wet skin, which can happen when your socks get too wet. Cotton socks are big culprits, so consider microfiber socks that better wick out moisture. Studies have shown compression socks do not appear to increase performance while you run, but have been shown to speed up the recovery process if you put them on afterward.

Blisters. Aside from getting the right socks, if you are prone to blisters, consider wearing antiperspirant on your feet before a run – and use Vaseline on problem spots you know are prone to blistering. And as for that age-old question – to pop or not to pop – the important thing is to leave the skin intact as a natural protective barrier. Clean a sewing needle with alcohol and just poke a small hole to allow the fluid to escape.

Black nails: These are common in runners because of micro-trauma as your foot jams into the toe box. There are two things to know:

1) It may look like fungus, but there is no way to tell from the naked eye so your physician will have to send a sample to the lab to know for sure.

2) Don’t rip it off if it lifts. Try to secure it down with tape, and as the new nail grows, it will push it out.

Pain: I am a surgeon, but I talk my patients out of surgery unless we have tried all non-operative treatments first. If your toes are spreading out and causing pain in the ball of the foot, tape your toe in place to take the stretch off the ligament until it can heal.

Heel pain is the most common complaint I hear and a lot of it has to do with degenerative changes of the plantar fascia, which are bands that run from heel to toe. The trick is to work on stretching both the calf muscle and the plantar fascia. Do a modified runner stretch to help. It also helps to get a golf ball and roll your foot over  it. It can be painful but it’s the best remedy I’ve found.

For Achilles pain, you can learn stretches that will help. But here’s an important caveat: If you have acute pain around your Achilles, and it’s inflamed and red, do not stretch because you can rupture it. We can put you in a boot and heel lifts to calm it down. Anytime you have an injury after a run, you’ll want to rest, put ice on it for 20 minutes at a time and elevate it above your heart. If you can’t put weight on it within a day, go see a doctor for a treatment plan to get you back on the road safely.

Natalie Hua, DPM, earned her medical degree from the California School of Podiatric Medicine in Oakland, California, graduating cum laude. She then completed her residency in podiatric medicine & surgery, and reconstructive rearfoot/ankle surgery at Tucson Medical Center.



  1. It’s good to know that stretching my calf muscle can help to reduce heel pain. I’ve had some severe foot pain ever since I started going to the gym. I’ll definitely have to visit a podiatrist if stretching doesn’t help the pain to subside.

  2. I appreciate the tip you gave, to wear microfiber socks rather than cotton, to avoid getting blisters when socks are wet. This summer, I’m going to be doing a lot of hiking up and around waterfalls. I’ll be sure to invest in a few pairs of microfiber so I don’t have to deal with the pain the rest of my hikes!

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