Before you start an exercise programme you should make sure that you are wearing the correct shoes. Seventy-five per cent of people are wearing the wrong shoes and sixty per cent of them will sustain injuries when exercising; wearing the wrong shoes will frequently be a contributing factor.
When exercising your feet and leg joints will inevitably take a pounding. For example, when running you are putting eight times your body weight through your feet, so, wearing running shoes appropriate to your running style is really important if you make running or jogging a large part of your exercise programmes. An 11 stone man of average size, running one mile will process 112 tons of weight through each limb. With this much force you need to wear shoes that will cushion and absorb the impact rather than shoes that rebound with each stride.
The most common injuries sustained by people wearing the wrong footwear are shin splints, knee pain, plantar fasciitis or ilio tibial band syndrome. Of the bones, the shin bone is the one most likely to suffer soreness. This can sometimes be as a result of too much exercise too soon, wearing the wrong type of shoes or wearing excessively worn shoes which are no longer providing sufficient absorption. However, it may also be as a result of poor foot alignment.
There are two types of foot alignment which can increase the likelihood of shin pain. Pronation and Supination. A simple wet foot test will tell you whether you pronate, supinate or whether you have a normal or neutral foot strike.
The Wet Foot Test
The wet foot test should help you determine what type of foot alignment you have. Stand on a paper towel with a wet foot and compare your footprint with the ones in the illustration below. If you match the flat foot image you are pronating.
Pronation is where the foot rolls inwards and, in the wet foot test, will produce a flat foot mark on the piece of paper. When pronation happens excessively, the misalignment of the joints results in an unstable foot and the muscles providing support to the bones in the leg are forced to overwork to control the motion. This results in fatigue and can cause micro-tears and inflammation of the muscle tissues, the tendons and the sheaths surrounding the bones. Most shoe manufacturers produce specific training shoes with support to help pronators but before you invest in these or expensive orthotics or arch supports you should determine whether you are pronating because it is your natural gait or whether you are pronating because of weak or poor muscle control around the hips, pelvis or knees. A further test you can do is to examine the arch of your foot in a sitting position when there is no weight through it. If an arch is visible when sitting but when standing you seem to have a flat arch, it is likely that your pronation is owing to weak muscles around the hip and pelvis.
Supination is where the foot turns outwards and the arch of the foot is pronounced. In the wet foot test, a high arch mark will be produced on the piece of paper. A degree of supination is normal as it locks the joints of the forefoot during the push off phase of the walking or running phase. However, when it is excessive the foot remains rigid and, when the foot does not return to the normal position, unnecessary force is transferred through the bones, particularly the tibia causing micro tears to the muscles or trauma to the actual bone.
Tips for avoiding foot and leg pain
Determine whether you excessively pronate or supinate
Exercise in appropriate cushioned footwear
Change your running shoes every 500 miles
Avoid running on hard or uneven surfaces (grass and wood chip are best)
Do not increase the intensity of your exercise programme too quickly
Include rest days into your exercise programme
Put your feet up whenever you get the chance