Watch Your Feet! A Beginner's Guide To Feet And The Martial Arts.

If you've just started taking a martial arts course, you probably realize that you spend a lot of time in your bare feet. Learn what you need to know about preventing injuries to your feet.

Why Are Feet So Important To The Martial Arts?

Right after you learned to properly tie your belt, you probably learned how to kick. Kicks are great defensive maneuvers because they keep your upper body away from your attacker. They are also great offensive maneuvers because they use your entire lower body strength to deliver a powerful assault.

If you're really going to be successful in the martial arts you'll also need to learn how to "dance" on the mat. You'll learn to move like your feet are on springs, ready to propel you into a full roundhouse kick at any moment.

Basically, your feet are your best assets in the martial arts. You've got to do your best to protect them, and know how to treat them when they're injured.

What's The Best Way To Protect Your Feet?

Stretching and protective foot gear are the best ways to protect your feet against damage and injury.

Stretching: You need to pay particular attention to the small muscles in your feet and toes and to the ligaments surrounding your ankles. Stretching techniques vary, and depending on your age, natural flexibility, and any previous injuries, what works for you might not work for someone else.

The goals, however, remain the same: increase flexibility, increase strength, and decrease the risk of injury. The increase in strength will occur over time as you use the muscles, but the increase in flexibility and decreased risk of injury happen immediately. Stretching pumps blood to your muscles, relieves tension and reduces chronic muscle pain. Stretched muscles are more flexible, which is key to reducing the risk of injury. An inflexible foot or muscle is going to be more easily damaged than a foot that is able to bounce a little when it is being used.

Protective Footwear: It is essential that you wear protective foot gear while you practice and spar. Foot gear protects your shins, ankles, and the small bones in the tops of your feet from injury. It also provides support to the arches of your feet, which help cushion your feet as you jump, land, or bounce on them.

Sports tape is sometimes used in place of protective foot gear, especially during tournaments where participants don't want to be limited or slowed down by their foot gear.

What Injuries Can Occur And How Do You Treat Them?

There are 4 basic types of foot injuries that occur in the martial arts: bruises, fractures, dislocated joints and tendons, and repetitive motion injuries.

Bruises: Probably the most common type of injury in martial arts, bruises are just small pools of blood under the skin where tiny blood vessels have broken due to trauma. While not dangerous, they can ache. Bruises are most common on the top of the foot and ankle.

Bruised areas can also collect fluid and swell, so rest, elevation, and ice are the recommended treatment. 

Fractures: Fractures, or broken bones, usually occur in the toes and on the top of the feet. They occur the same way bruises do. You may need x-rays, and if you've fractured a toe, you may need to have the toe taped to the toe next to it, for stability. You won't usually require a cast, however, because as long as the bones are still aligned, they'll heal on their own. Sometimes a removable cast is used. Again, rest, elevate, and ice the foot.

Dislocated Joints And Tendons: Dislocated joints and tendons (sometimes called pulled tendons) are probably more painful - and harder to heal - than a fracture. If you have what feels like a sprained toe or ankle, and it keeps getting worse or won't heal, see a podiatrist that specializes in sports medicine.

Repetitive Motion Injuries: Injuries caused by making the same motion, over and over again, are called repetitive motion injuries. Overuse of the foot and ankle can cause severe pain and injury to the heel of the foot, the underside of the big toe, and the Achilles tendon.

Preventing a repetitive motion injury through stretching, appropriate breaks in training, and the use of foot gear, is the best thing to do. If you've already developed a repetitive motion injury, you should see a specialist that can help you as soon as possible to keep the injury from getting worse.

With a little preventative care and appropriate care if your foot is injured, your feet can keep you on the mat and kicking for many years yet to come.