Training > Injuries

Can I continue training with foot osteoarthritis?

Been diagnosed with osteoarthritis in your feet and worried you may no longer be able to run and train for, and compete in, triathlons? Chris Kay, a qualified sports rehabilitation specialist, explains how you can manage the condition and alleviate the symptoms, so you can still run.

Osteoarthritis is a common injury where the cartilage within a joint has worn down, usually due to wear and tear over a long period of time. The cartilage is a shock absorber between two bones. This injury can arise from poor mechanics, increased repetitive impact-based exercise, as well as dietary factors and genetics. 

In the case of osteoarthritis, the shoe’s purpose is to provide increased cushioning, therefore replace what has been lost within the joint, which is a very important factor when looking for trainers. The Hoka brand offers very well- cushioned but responsive trainers, and would be a good option if you haven’t tried them before.

Rehab

The goal is to protect the joint and reduce pain by making it strong, so the musculature can do the job of the shock absorbing. 

Firstly, strengthen the intrinsic muscle of the foot – a simple way to do this is to put a towel on a hard floor, put your toes over the edge of the towel and use your toes to pull it towards you repeatedly until the towel has been bunched
up completely. Then repeat.

Another important aspect is to improve your balance. If you stand on one foot and it isn’t stable, then that means there’ll be more pressure on your foot when it hits the ground (running or walking). So, any single-leg balance work is beneficial (if that’s too easy then try standing one-legged on a Wobble Cushion or a couple of pillows on top of each other).

Lastly, I’d look at your knees and hips to make sure they’re stable; if the knee falls inwards this will put extra pressure on the joints within the foot, so gluteal and hamstring exercises are very useful for protecting the foot.

Are there any particular activities you should avoid?

Any repetitive load-bearing exercise will increase the chances of more wear and tear. Yet many people with bilateral osteoarthritis carry on running, but they also do lots of strength/balance work and improve their running technique to help, as well as wearing the correct trainers.

Have you any nutrition advice to help alleviate the symptoms?

Proteins and fats help build cartridge, such as glucosamine (a protein found in prawn tails and homemade bone broths and sold in tablet form) and ETA (a fat found in green-lipped mussels). An anti-inflammatory diet can also be supportive, such as one rich in fish, eggs and plants. Specifically, potent anti-inflammatory foods such as ginger, turmeric, garlic, and avocado can be helpful.

Chris Kay is a qualified sports rehabilitation specialist, diagnosing sports injuries, biomechanical assessment, functional rehabilitation, sports massage involving deep tissue and myofascial techniques, as well as nutrition.

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