What type of feet do you have and how does it effect your running? Maybe not the best conversation starter with a complete stranger, but you’ll learn a lot. But the first just to clarify there are surprisingly three main types of feet, or to be more specific, three main ways our toes are aligned according to Dr. Vienne who spoke with ON Running on the matter.
Most common is the Egyptian type, where the big toe lives up to its name and is longer than all other toes. This is the case for around half of human feet. But around 40% of us have what’s known as the Greek type, where the second toe is longer than all other toes. More rare, being found in only 10% of people, is the Roman type. This is where the big toe, second toe and third toe are all the same length.
This actually doesn’t have a big impact on how we run. There are however, said to be some character types associated with each foot type, according to folklore:
“Interestingly, people with the Egyptian foot are said to be open minded, sociable and particularly good in business. People with the Greek foot type are thought to be great leaders, creative and intelligent. And people with the Roman foot are said to be not only rather calm and thoughtful, but also reliable and pragmatic.” But Dr. Vienne soon gets more specific – and scientific.
“The foot and ankle have a very complex anatomy. In each there are between 29 and 34 bones, more than 100 ligaments, 30 joints, more than 30 muscles, 5 major nerves and 3 arteries. All these structures work together to allow motion in all directions on varying surfaces. The impact on these anatomical structures every step is huge. Running or jumping can result in forces four or five times our body weight.
“The attachment of the Achilles tendon at the rear of the foot can stand forces up to 800 kg/cm2. It is a real phenomenon of nature but also represents a potential point of injury particularly from overload.” And that’s the thing, just as the anatomy of the foot is more complex than you many realise, the demands we put on our feet are bigger than you might think. The role of the foot in running is not to be underestimated.
“Our feet and ankles are responsible for extraordinary biomechanics. From the moment of contact with the ground until the push-off phase there are subtle interactions between the forefoot, the midfoot and the hindfoot to adapt to different surfaces and allow many types of movements. This is called proprioception and works through automatic mechanisms involving tactile and sensomotoric nerve cells acting directly on the many muscles of the foot and ankle.” says the Dr.
So now you have a new-found respect for the anatomy of the foot. But how can you use this information to help prevent injuries? Dr. Vienne groups injuries into two types: traumatic injuries and overload injuries.
“Traumatic injuries [like slips, twists and falls] are usually not related to a mistake by the athlete,” Dr. Vienne says. “They can sometimes be associated with high-risk taking or wearing inadequate shoes.”
“We see the same problems in professional athletes, most of the time after a recovery period following an injury. Inappropriate shoes and technical mistakes can also lead to overload. The tendon insertions in the foot and ankle are the structures most often affected by overload. This can lead to chronic inflammation of these structures, which can be difficult to treat and in most of the cases are followed by a long period of rest or alternative activities.”
Of course, that sounds like something we want to avoid however possible. And, like so much in running, preventing overload is about pacing yourself. But there are a few additional steps you can take as well.
“A progressive, structured increase of your training load is the best way to prevent an overload injury. On top of that, good technique and the right shoe can also help to reduce the risk of foot and ankle injuries.
“I also recommend that athletes compliment their endurance training by regularly doing some specific strengthening exercises and ending each training session with some stretching exercises, particularly stretching out the gastrocnemius muscle in your calf. And finally, making sure you have enough time for recovery and balanced nutrition are important contributions to reduce the risk of injuries.”
To help build the right physical foundation for running and to build up your training gradually? Check out ON Runnings runner’s health check, with exercises for helping the body handle the rigours of running. You might also like their half marathon and full marathon training plans. And of course, make sure you get the footwear right with the brands Shoe Finder tool, a great starting point.