by Lindsay A Fitzgerald
How playing football impacts on the foot
Football can place a great deal of stress on the foot and the more you play, the higher the stress. There can be a lot of friction involved, particularly when playing on surfaces such as astroturf. A player often stops suddenly and twists and turns. Likewise, when playing on hard ground the studs can result in pressure to the sole of the foot.
Football boots can also be quite stressful on the feet, particularly as most players wear a tight fit for better ball control. It is not uncommon for a footballer to suffer with pressure points, corns, callus or ingrowing toenails as a result of football boots. This is particularly damaging for those who are still growing.
Potential problems and when to seek the help of a podiatrist
We would advise anybody actively participating in football who starts to feel pain in the foot, ankle or heel to seek the advice of a podiatrist sooner rather than later. People tend to persevere with pain, thinking that it will go away. There is a big difference between muscular aches from a hard session and pain that reoccurs after every training session or game, or even pain that is gradually getting worse. In these situations, it is best to consult a podiatrist with a special interest in biomechanics and musculoskeletal problems.
Any signs of pressure such as redness, blisters, hard skin or extra bone developing (osteophytic formation) definitely needs assessing by a professional. Areas to check are around the back of the heel, the toes and the base of the big toe joint.
Maintaining healthy feet for football
Prevention is always better than cure. Support your feet whenever you can, not only when playing but as much as possible. Toenails should always be kept to a good length, cut straight across and not too short – you would not want to miss an important game due to an ingrowing toenail.
Good foot hygiene is essential to prevent a number of foot problems such as bacterial, fungal or viral infection. These can appear minor but can result in complications leading to pain and even missed training sessions and matches.
Footballers often neglect their flexibility, which can be important in keeping a good posture, maintaining a wide range of motion at all joints and preventing injury. This is particularly important in those that are still growing. Teenagers can suffer from excruciating heel pain because they have extremely tight hamstrings or calves. Once this flexibility is increased with a stretching programme, their posture improves and the problem is resolved. Sometimes prescribed insoles/ orthoses are also needed to support the feet.
Having good balance and awareness is essential for football. This can be improved by increasing the communication between the feet and the nervous system (brain). This is referred to as ‘proprioception’ and can be improved with the use of orthoses for those with flat feet.
A good, well-fitting pair of football boots is essential. There shouldn’t be any signs of pressure on the foot after a game or training session. A pair of flip flops is recommended if using communal changing areas and showers, as this can prevent picking up any infections that can cause unnecessary problems. It is strongly recommended that these are used for this purpose only.
Seek advice and treatment from a Podiatrist as you may require supports for your feet(custom made orthotics or insoles).
Five top tips when playing football
- Stretch, stretch, stretch!
- Support your feet (good footwear).
- Good foot hygiene.
- Look after your nails.
- Contact a podiatrist immediately if you have any concern.