Dr. Rachel Verville treats patients with a variety of foot and ankle conditions. As a podiatrist, one of the most common stories Dr. Verville hears is that her patients started having pain or discomfort during or after exercise.

Whether you walk for exercise, are just beginning a jogging regimen, or are training for a marathon, there are “steps” that you can take to protect yourself from these types of injuries.

Wear Supportive Shoes or Orthotics

Every footfall creates an impact on your body. From your heel to your toes and along your ankle, the force that walking, jogging, and running imparts can take a major toll and lead to several conditions, from plantar fasciitis to foot fractures.

Often, the injuries a foot doctor sees are accelerated because patients aren’t wearing shoes that offer the right level of support. At one point, these shoes might have had well-constructed insoles and padding that reduces the impact on their body. Over time, though, shoes break down, and the forces that footwear used to absorb go straight to the foot and ankle instead.

Consider replacing your shoes every nine months (more often if you exercise more regularly.) You’ll not only be reducing the impact on your feet. You’ll also give your body a more stable platform, which can reduce trauma from accidents like stepping off a curb and spraining an ankle. If your feet still aren’t receiving the support they need, your podiatrist can likely prescribe a set of custom orthotics to help you exercise.

Take Care of Your Feet Before, During, and After

Before you head out for a run, stretch more than your back, arms, and legs. A podiatrist can show you specific stretches for your feet and ankle that can prepare them for the activity. Flexing and warming up your tendons can help you exercise more effectively and protect you against injury. Take the same amount of time to stretch at the end of your exercise as well.

Between runs, keep your feet clean and dry. Hygiene is one of the most common sources of foot ailments. Air out exercise shoes, wash socks, and pay particular care to any changes in the way your feet and toes look as these can be signs of unwanted conditions (athlete’s foot, fungal toenails, and plantar wart concerns among them.)

Transition Gradually into Exercise Routines

Whether you are just starting an exercise program or you are an experienced runner, your body requires time to become accustomed to the activity. Certain patients can ramp up their mileage or time faster than others due to natural ability, but your foot doctor will tell you that it’s a mistake to push too hard too fast.

Why? Going full force early increases your chance of injury. A single tendon and ligament in your foot or ankle may simply not be able to keep up, even if you are breathing easily and moving well otherwise. Small injuries can take you out of your routine just as much as injuries to a larger part of your leg.

Instead, establish a slow ramp up to the level you are trying to achieve with your exercise program. Understand the difference between normal soreness and potential signs of injury. As always, if you have questions about which is which, ease back or stop exercising until you have recovered.