Shoe Guy: Ball of Foot Pain

Shoe Guy began as a columnist in Running Times Magazine many moons ago. Now, we are lucky to have him as a co-owner of the store. Every once in a while, we will repurpose old submissions for the new format and continue enjoying Shoe Guy's running wisdom.

Dear Shoe Guy, 

I am training for my first marathon at age 58 and overweight--yeah, I'm nuts too--and I just successfully completed a half-marathon halfway through my marathon training.
After I run about 8-9 miles the bottoms of my feet feel as if they are on fire. Assuming I have the right shoes--and I think I do--I have been told that sometimes the support or foam at the balls of the feet of the shoe spread outs or moves and that I need some more padding there or some kind of insert into the bottom of my shoe. Does that make sense to you? 
I purchased the shoes at a specialty store for runners (not Fleet Feet) and was carefully fitted and videotaped. I have a pair of Asics and I am told those same shoes have been worn by others in marathons. Again, I feel comfortable that the proprietor--a runner--correctly matched the shoe to my type of foot. He was the one that told me I need the extra stuff at the balls of my feet and said he does that all of the time.


Shoe Guy responds:

My suspicion is that you don’t need more stuff inside your shoes, but less. After about an hour of running, feet swell which makes the shoes tighter, especially in the forefoot area. If that part of the shoe was marginally snug to begin with, it can fit like a hungry python after an hour. The result can be a pinched nerve in the ball of the foot, right behind the second and third toe. The angry nerve can make your foot feel like someone is holding a burning match right under the ball of the foot. If you get some relief when you take the shoes off, it’s likely this is what’s happening.

A quick-and-dirty solution is to unlace the shoes, then re-lace them skipping the bottom set of eyelets (or the second set, whichever set is directly over the widest part of your forefoot). This allows the upper to expand by about half a width in the forefoot area, providing more room for the feet to swell on longer workouts. If the burning problem is gone or at least somewhat diminished, the long term solution is shoes with a roomier fit in the forefoot, possibly even a wider width. Some Asics models come in a wider width, so give that a try.

If the pain doesn’t go away or gets worse, time to go see your health care provider for a medical diagnosis.


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