Solving Foot Pain From Treadmill Running

Q: To make a long story short, I have been running on and off all my life. Triathlon is a relatively new sport and I love it.

Recently, I have had a problem with my toes going numb in my shoes. I went and replaced my shoes because we found out that after the last baby, my feet were bigger and flatter.

However, I still have a problem with my toes hurting, curling up and getting stiff. I think it is a tension thing. It also seems to only happen when I am on the treadmill and after mile four. What are your thoughts?

A: When you mention foot pain and tension, the first thing that comes to mind is snow skiing when conditions are icy. Often, when athletes ski in icy conditions, they find that their entire body gets tense, most of all their feet. They usually find that they are trying to hold on to the slope by gripping the bottom of their ski boots with their toes.

Once they feel their toes and feet beginning to ache, they can usually reduce the aching sensation by focusing on good form and doing a relaxation-check. This check is a mental check list with a physical link. Mentally go from head to toe and very consciously remove the tension from each body part, beginning at the forehead, then face, neck, shoulders, upper back and then on down through the feet.

If you believe your problem is tension related, you might try the conscious relaxation technique when you notice the pain in your feet coming on.

I'm not sure how long it has been since you had your child. I am assuming you gave yourself ample time to rebuild fitness and the core muscle strength to run at your current training volume and intensity. If not, you may need to back off on running volume and/or speed.

Foot Pain From Treadmill Running

You don't mention what is going on with the treadmill speed and incline during these workouts. If the treadmill speed, and your feet, seem fine at the start of the workout, but then it gets pretty challenging (either because you increase the speed or the speed you began with is not sustainable after four miles) you might try slowing the treadmill down.

You can use a combination of treadmill speed and heart rate to see if you are overextending yourself for any given treadmill speed. If you do not use a heart rate monitor in training, notice the level of your breathing as the workout progresses. In either case, if you find your heart rate and breathing begin at a comfortable rate and then steadily increase to high and labored about the time your feet start to cramp, I suggest slowing the treadmill down.

Some people have more foot problems when running uphill and others have problems when the course is dead flat for miles on end. Try to notice if your foot pain is influenced by keeping the treadmill incline flat, uphill or by varying it as if you were running a rolling course.

Also, you don't mention if you are having foot pain in any situation besides running. It might be the shoes you wear during the day (when not running) that are contributing to your problem. I assume you replaced all of your non-running shoes as well.

If these suggestions do not help eliminate your problem; consider visiting a podiatrist that sees active athletes, including runners and triathletes. After having your baby, your foot anatomy may require a different shoe than you are currently using, or perhaps orthotics.


Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow training plans. For more information, click here. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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