Feet undergo an enormous amount of strain every day. For each mile you put on them, for example, your feet support about 100,000 pounds of pressure. If you’re involved in sports or other types of exercise, you may be putting even more stress on your feet.

The bones in the feet don’t fully mature until the ages of 18 to 23. So it’s extra important when you are young to take good care of your feet. That way, you can avoid permanent problems.

Feet and Sports

A lot of kids and teens have wear-and-tear injuries. Those happen most often in ankles, knees, and feet because of overtraining. Kids are being expected to do activities that their bones and joints aren’t ready for.

Luckily, there is a fairly easy way to prevent foot damage: Stretch. One of the main problems that younger athletes are not being taught how to stretch properly. The kids who don’t stretch are the ones who would be most likely to get injured.

You should also always alert your coach (and definitely your parents!) if you are in any sort of pain. You may have an injury that needs to be treated, such as a stress fracture. That is a tiny break in a bone; in the foot or ankle, it’s caused by repeated pounding from running and other sports. Read on for a guide to other types of common foot ailments and what to do about them.

Foot-Friendly Stretches

Do these stretches before every workout to avoid strains, sprains and pains.

Achilles Tendon Stretch: Stand on a step (you can also use a ladder or the edge of a sidewalk), with your heels over the edge. Then lower yourself until you feel a stretch in your calves.

Hamstring Stretch: Place your foot on a step, and flex it so your toes are in the air. Bend forward with a straight back until you feel the stretch along the back of your leg.

Thigh Stretch: While in a seated position on the floor, place the soles of your feet together so your knees point out toward the sides. Rest your elbows on your knees, and gradually push your knees down to the floor to stretch your inner thighs.

Not-so-happy feet: a guide to common foot ailments and what to do about them

Ingrown Toenails

When the side of a toenail grows into the skin, you may experience this painful problem. Ingrown toenails can come from sports that require repeated kicking, shoes or socks that are too tight, or incorrect nail trimming. They can even be genetic-you can inherit the tendency for curvy nails. If you have a minor ingrown nail that isn’t causing pus in the area, you can relieve the pressure by placing a piece of dry cotton under the semi-ingrown corner of the nail. Otherwise, it’s best to avoid self-treatment, as the nail can break the skin, leading to infectionst.

Turf Toe

This funny-sounding condition is nothing to laugh at. It’s caused by jamming the toe or by repeatedly pushing off with your feet when running or jumping. Turf toe is so named because it’s common among athletes, such as football or soccer players, who play on artificial turf. The hard surface, combined with the movements required in sports, can cause pain at the base of the big toe. There are sports shoes that are rigid … in the front of the shoe, which can help. Flexible shoes, such as regular sneakers, give less protection to toes.

Athlete’s Foot

Despite the name, athlete’s foot is not just for athletes! Anyone who walks barefoot in a public place, such as a shower or swimming pool, can get it. Athlete’s foot is a fungus infection that can make the bottoms of feet dry, cracked, and red. Feet also might itch and burn. Even grosser, the fungus can spread to other parts of your body if your infected feet touch those areas! Prevent the condition by wearing flip-flops in gyms and public showers and by keeping feet very clean (make sure to wash and dry between toes as well). Because the fungus thrives in warm, moist environments, keep socks and shoes dry, and wear shoes that allow air flow (such as sneakers with mesh).

Smelly Feet

Foot stink is caused by bacteria that feed off the sweat and dirt in your shoes. They love to multiply in moist, dark places (such as the inside of your sneakers after sports practice). The waste products of the bacteria cause that certain, um, stench. These simple tips can help keep bacteria from becoming your feet’s new neighbors: Wash feet with soap and water daily; alternate shoes each day to give them time to dry out; and avoid plastic shoes, which don’t let feet breathe.

Achilles Tendinitis

The Achilles tendon is the long tendon that connects the heel bone to the calf muscle. You need it to pull your heel off the ground and push forward while walking or running. When you overtrain or move incorrectly, you risk getting Achilles tendinitis, a pain along the back of the leg below the calf. Use the RICE method to heal it: rest, ice, compression, and elevation. (See “Easy as RICE;) That helps reduce pain and swelling. Over-the-counter painkillers will bring down the swelling too.

Plantar Fasciitis

This dull, aching pain in the bottom of the heel and arch is usually caused by overexercising, improper shoes, or tightness of the muscles in the back of the leg. The best cure is to rest, ice the foot, and take an over-thecounter painkiller. Rarely, a doctor may inject cortisone (a steroid) to shrink swelling.You can help prevent plantar fasciitis by stretching well before exercise and always wearing the right type of shoes for your activity.

Plantar Warts

That locker room floor may look clean, but you still need to wear flipflops to protect your feet. That’s because you can get plantar warts, caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), from walking barefoot on germy surfaces. Those warts, found on the soles of the feet, can look very similar to corns and calluses (small, thickened areas of skin). The difference? Plantar warts grow in clusters and usually have tiny black dots on the surface. Although they’re generally harmless, they can spread if you touch or scratch them. Many over-the-counter options use acid to peel the warts away. But if the warts come back or don’t respond, your doctor can burn, laser, or freeze the warts off for you. (Do not try this at home!)

Easy as RICE

REST: Don’t put pressure on or use the hurt body part.

ICE: Apply an ice pack for 15 minutes. Take the pack off, and then put it back on 15 minutes later.

COMPRESSION: Use an elastic bandage or other wrap to limit swelling.

ELEVATION: Raise the hurt part above the heart to keep swelling down.

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