How I Became An Injured Runner Or, the Agony of De-Feet

Heads up: If you have a foot fetish, you are gonna luurrrvvvve this post. If you don’t have a foot fetish, sorry in advance.

I am now one of the masses, a cliché, a hackneyed stereotype.

I am an injured runner. Like, have-to-take-time-off injured. I haven’t written about it much, maybe because I was denying it was even a problem.

It started brewing last summer, when after hard or long runs, I would feel like there was a pebble on the ball of my foot, underneath my 2nd right toe. It didn’t bother me everyday, and with a little rest and sometimes with some ice, it would subside.

foot injury plantar plate recovery

Double ice packs, double the fun.

Bit by bit, as my training ramped up, it grew worse throughout the summer and fall. During that time, I DID go see the podiatrist for it, and for my ongoing battle with plantar fasciitis, the scourge of runner’s injuries.  I had cortisone shots, got custom orthotics made, and applied anti-inflammatory rubs. My feet got uglier and uglier, not helped by the fact that I’m horrible at pedicures, or smudgicures as I now call them.

plantar plate injury

This is what I get for having 10-year-old polish. And impatience for drying time.

As my marathon training mileage peaked, so did my toe issues. (However the plantar fasciitis got markedly better – I believe due to the orthotics.) I got a black toenail on my other second toe, the one I call my “martyr toe,” as it always takes a beating for the others on higher mileage runs. I noticed my second toe started “drifting” toward my big toe ever-so-slightly. Then came the taper. I babied my feet, then I ran a strong marathon. But not without some owies that popped up afterward.

black toenails plantar plate tear toe drift

DIAGNOSIS: Ugly.

Marathoner’s Feet Deconstructed: Martyr left 2nd toenail barely hanging on, heinous blister on big toe, 2nd right toe “drifting” toward big toe, unexpected and totally rando black toenail on 4th toe.

But when the soreness of the marathon wore off, and my 2nd toe still felt like someone took a hammer to it, I knew it was time to investigate further.

My doc then suspected a plantar plate tear. The plantar plate is a large ligament structure on the ball of your foot that holds your toes in place. The toe drift (which is a thing, apparently) and the pain I had was a sign of a tear. How bad the tear was would be determined by the MRI. Bad tears get surgery. Not-so-bad tears MIGHT respond to conservative therapies and rest. Mine turned out to be a partial tear, so I opted for conservative.

Conservative treatments meant a total break from running/jumping/high impact for minimum 4 months. Shockwave therapy. Taping the toe in place. Modifying my orthotics. Patience. Praying.

It’s an overuse injury, I know that. But in my toe’s defense, my second toes are just a few millimeters longer than my big toe. Which means that they take the brunt of the landing/push off force, instead of being spread across the foot. It’s a bio-mechanical issue, meaning, it’s just the way I’m built. Left 2nd toenail gets the hematoma, right 2nd toe gets the ligament tear. So now I’ve got myself TWO MARTYR TOES.

Martyrdom covers a multitude of sins. – Mark Twain

There is hope. I haven’t run in almost 3 months, and the acute pain has gone away. I’m getting my sweat on in other ways, which I’ll write about soon.  In the meantime, here’s my rested and taped martyr toes:

plantar plate tear toe running

Yep, still ugly.

Are you injured? Do you have a martyr toe or other body part? Commiserate in the comments below.

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32 thoughts on “How I Became An Injured Runner Or, the Agony of De-Feet

  1. Battling a crapy knee in one leg and PF in the opposite foot. While there are worse times of year to be injured, I’ve been resting for almost 2 months now and I want to do an early summer half so bad I can taste it. I need to start running again, even if it’s only a mile a day. (I really meant to try to cheer you up, and all I can do is whine…sorry!) 🙂

    • That’s OK! This is a safe place to commiserate. Sometimes I hear a favorite running song come on the radio, and it just kills me, I want to be out running so bad.

      • Yeah Nancy the running songs, they get me too. My problem, besides ugly feet, is lack of motivation due to the sub-0 temps here in the midwest. I have a nagging knee pain from August!?! But I just keep telling myself it hurts because I am not running. Ever notice pain is more when not running? I keep telling myself it is ok to rest now because once marathon training starts there will be little time off. Good Luck Nancy & Meryl

      • Yeah, I keep telling myself and I would really be aggravating my asthma is I ran in these temps we’ve been having, too. So that’s something. Nagging knee pain! Get that checked out girl…though you might just be told that you have Incurable Sh*tty Knee (a la Louis CK bit).

  2. I have been dealing with foot injuries too! The ball of my foot below my big toe! I see a sports medicine guy, you has helped me with therapy and various muscular strengthen techniques. I feel your pain. It is so frustrating! I am 6 months later, I am just now back up to 5 miles.

  3. Wow, I’ve never heard of that before! Sounds rough and don’t worry, your ugly feet are in good company. We all have them and even kind of admire them in others. Hang in there.

  4. I’m toying with a nagging ache in the back of my right hip: sacroiliac joint/hip arthritis from overuse. I actually start physical therapy for it on Monday. But, in the mean time it’s caused me to run differently I guess and I have spent the last 3 days icing the arch of my left foot. I’m wishing, hoping, and praying that it doesn’t turn into something that takes me out for a while. So for now I am sidelined on the couch as well and it gives me lots of time to pick out the colors for the pedicure I am never going to get.

    • Ooof, 4 years ago when I started running (again) I had SI Joint problems. The only other time I had them was when I was pregnant about 2 years prior, so I knew what it was as soon as I felt it. Three things helped me: Chiropractor visits for about 4 weeks, some specific stretches that he gave me to stretch the outer butt/hip area (wish I could tell you the name of the stretch), and I think the biggest help was wearing an SI Joint belt on my hips for about a month. That gave the joint and the surrounding tissues support to heal. I even wore it during a half marathon. It’s a neoprene version, found on Amazon. Luckily, I haven’t had the problem since. I hope your PT goes well and what the heck, SMUDGICURES ARE ALL THE RAGE…go for it 🙂

    • Hi Dr. Runco!
      That is so funny that you commented…I think I read every single article you’ve posted about plantar plate injuries back in December when I got the diagnosis! You site was such a great source of info for this particular injury, and it gave me reassurance that holding back on surgery was the right choice. (To be fair, my doc actually didn’t recommend the surgery, he felt conservative treatments would help.) Now, after no running for 3.5 months, orthotic adjustments, taping, smart daytime shoe choices and shockwave therapy, I would say it’s getting there. I’m hoping that perhaps I can try easy running in April. You are right at needing patience! Thanks for commenting and if this doesn’t get better I’ll give you a ring!

      • I ma glad you are getting better and my blog was helpful! I strongly urge you to try the HOKA shoe as well. Its rocker style design and additional stiffness take stress off the 2nd MTP…..and often make a huge difference. You just have to get over their appearance 🙂

  5. Hi there, came across your blog while researching plantar plate ruptures. Suffering one for 2 months now, (2nd right toe)but it was misdiagnosed for 6 weeks as fracture! Didn’t know such a small thing could cause so much pain, instability and other inconveniences. Thank you for posting. Got mine from the kids at work thinking my foot was a launching pad. I am not a runner, but I do field archery and the downtime going into the busy shooting season is rough! How did you cope? And how did you get your feet prettier? The boot is not kind the skin!

    • Ah…the plantar plate tear…I think you’re going to have an easier time than I did, being that yours is an acute injury. Mine was a slow buildup over months that I just dealt with it to get through the marathon. Taking 5 months off from running really helped. I had to make myself find other things to do. I ended up doing mostly swimming and Cross-fitting (modified to avoid jumping and anything that would tax the ball of my foot). I didn’t end up having a boot, but I was limited to shoes that I could wear my orthotics with. Not running for 5 months also made my feet prettier – having toenails makes all the difference. 😉 Good luck!!

  6. Hi! I am so glad I came across your blog. Reading about your recovery from a plantar plate tear is giving me hope! About 3 weeks ago I injured myself running hills. The pain was pretty bad under the ball of my foot – where my 2nd and 3rd toes meet up with the ball (my 2nd and 3rd toes are both longer than my 1st toe — so all of they absorb all of the impact when I run — especially hills). It got to the point where walking was a struggle — and I had to limp around. I took a few days off of running and things settled down — but there was still a dull ache. Then I tried to run again and it flared up again. I went to the podiatrist and he ordered an MRI. I was officially diagnosed last week with a partial plantar plate tear in my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th metatarsals (with the 3rd metatarsal being the worst). The podiatrist said that the tear is not severe – between 15-20%. I am not experiencing acute pain any longer — just a dull ache when I try to use my toes in a certain position — usually if I try to push off at all. The dr suggested a walking boot for a month — however the boot throws my entire body out of alignment and gives me pretty bad back and hip pain — so I am going to try to recover without the boot (using good support shoes with my orthotics in all the time — also taping my toes down). After reading about your recovery it sounds like you didn’t use a walking boot for the 4 month recovery time you endured. Were you having pain at all during those 4 months? Did you use crutches, walk gingerly, or simply walk with a normal stride? Did you ice frequently during your recovery? Do you have any pain in the area now that you are fully recovered? Sorry for all the questions — just need to hear from someone who has been through it — and made it out the other side. I am desperate to get back to running — and feel so stuck right now. Nina

    • Hi Nina!
      I did not use a boot or crutches at all, just taping down my 2nd toe and wearing sensible shoes. I did hobble gingerly for a while, and I would ice it about 2x day for the first 6 weeks. As it healed, I hobbled less and less. I ended up taking 5 months completely off from running. I was able to use the rowing machine, swim (one foot pushoff the wall), spin (nothing out of the seat), and Crossfit (no jumping or running and I did one-legged burpees, LOL). I just made sure that I babied my foot for that big chunk of time. I put a metatarsal pad under the ball of my foot to offset the impact. I also had 3 treatments of shockwave therapy, which I’m not sure exactly how much that that helped, perhaps it sped up the healing. My doc said PPT’s are notoriously hard to heal, but yours may heal better since it is an acute injury and not an overuse/chronic one like mine. I was able to run again and do another marathon this year. My toe only gets sore when I push the pace, and I ice it, but it is manageable, and nothing like the pain I had before – just a general soreness. I call it my “cranky toe”…it lets me know when I’ve pushed too far! I hope that helps. Feel better soon!

    • Hi Nina, I am a plantar plate tear survivor! I felt it tear on a simple 4 mile run. Felt like a rubber band snapped under my second toe which immediately stopped me in my tracks. Luckily I was within site of my house when it happened cause I had to hobble home. That was in March of 2014. For 5 months I had to back off running and was in a lot of pain whenever I bent my toes (which is like all the time, right?) Went to a local foot doctor who took lots of x-Rays but found “nothing”. Finally fed up, I went to a larger city to a referral to an excellent podiatrist surgeon. He immediately did an MRI…bad news…you have a plantar plate tear that is not going to heal on its own. He said He could fix it, but it’s probably going to happen again if he didn’t fix my big toe bunion too, which was the reason it probably tore in the first place. So in tears I asked will I ever be able to run again? He said sure, if you do what I tell you to do during recovery. I was all ears. Wanted to get better fast. The other good news he told me was I could still compete in my half marathon in September of 2014, as long as I cross trained instead of running to prepare. I was so thrilled to cross that finish line, being my first ever half, plantar tear and all! It was my final run for awhile though. I went under the knife in December 2014 to repair the plantar plate, second toe crookedness, and big toe nasty bunion. It was a 12 week recovery, with the first month spent in a cast, then a boot, then physical therapy. I am still dealing with a little stiffness in the area of that darn plantar plate tear. And after long runs, it aches some. I use ice and ibuprofen and it helps. I was able to run another half this past fall, improving my time over the year before by 25 minutes! I was extremely pleased with surgery on my right foot, so I just had surgery last week on my left foot to correct bunion, bunionette on pinky toe, and to shorten my second toe since it extended beyond my big toe. We will see what happens but so far I am pleased with the results and lucky to have found an excellent surgeon. Sorry for the long winded response but I am a plantar plate tear survivor!! Good luck!!

  7. Look at that right foot of yours…bunion, toe starting to cross over. Mine looked that way. Three years of conservative treatment, limited running, no running. It got worse over my “rehab.” I finally had surgery. My continuous pain with my foot is gone. My doctor said I will be running again but I am hesitant to think that, but hopeful because my running is my happy.

  8. Hi, I was just diagnosed with a small plantar plate tear in my right foot, right at the ball of the foot/under second metatarsal. I’m a marathon runner and triathlete but running is all I ever want to do.I haven’t ran for about a week now and getting very depressed now. A couple questions: 1) when did you start biking? Did it hurt your toe? I went biking today and it felt like it was hurting my foot….and I don’t want to delay injury because I just want to get back to running ASAP. 2) did you wear a boot? My doctor recommends me wearing one but I hate it. 3) is it possible to keep running with the tear if I have custom orthotics? (orthotics should be ready in a few weeks).

    • I’m sorry to hear that. I don’t have news that you would want to hear, unfortunately. I took 5 months COMPLETELY off from running. I swam, biked (after about 3 months), and did modified Crossfit (no jumps or running; one-legged burpees, etc.) That’s what it took. Mine was a partial tear. I had pain whenever I ran. It is a stubborn injury. However, after 5 months, it was 95% healed. And guess what, my running was stronger, better, FASTER…because I took the time off, got leaner from the weight training, and my tri times were much improved. I ran my 3rd marathon one year after the injury. It flares up a little now when I do speed work, but I rest it and ice it and it’s fine. I had custom orthotics before the PP (for plantar facsiitis), and the doc simply added a metatarsal pad to the orthotic. I did not wear a boot. I had 3 sessions of shockwave therapy (not really sure if that helped). Plus, when I healed I started back with Hokas, as you’ll want as much cushion as possible. Minimalist shoes will only pound that metatarsal again. I hate to say it, but unless you want to make it worse I would lay off any running. Sorry.

  9. I too have a plantar plate injury. No MRI at present but have been seeking help my podiatrist. This has been going on for nearly 7 months and am still in pain. Taping, shots, oral meds, custom and adjusted orthodics, improvents in foot wear and still without relief. Anyone have any other suggestions? I really dont want surgery.

    • I’m sorry to hear that you are suffering with this g-d forsaken injury. I would seek the advice of an orthopedist, as there may be something else going on besides the PP injury. I was only able to get the PPI diagnosed through an MRI. The MRI will see the damage and what grade tear it is. I’m afraid if it’s a complete tear, there may be surgery involved. Mine was a partial tear, and I did all of the above, plus not one step of running or jumping for 5 months. Good luck!

  10. Hi – I have also been suffering with a torn plantar plate for about the last 10 months after 2 mis diagnosises. Question, did your 2nd toe drift heal and go back to normal? Been taping daily and my pain has gone down quite a bit but my second toe is still very slanted towards my big toe. Haven’t run in about 4 months 😦 Thanks! Shay

    • My 2nd toe never went back. My doc warned me it would most likely “heal in place”. Happy to say I am fully healed now. It just took a lot of patience. Good luck!

  11. I have just been diagnosed with a plantar plate injury and my Doc was in the never run again category, of course I want to run again, but toe and three are completely crooked. I am seeing another doctor soon, but I am glad I found your info. I guess three or four months is pretty realistic. It is hard to take knowing how bad this is, but seeing someone come back from it sure helps!

    • I’m sorry to hear about your injury. It is in such a small area, but such a bear! Definitely give yourself the time off from running. It’s now been two years since I was diagnosed, and I have zero problems (except the toe never went back, but that’s ok). Glad I took off the 5 months and babied it the rest of 2014. Feel better!!

  12. Hi Nancy. I just noticed your blog. Eight weeks ago I started to experience moderate swelling in ball of my foot & pain. I also noticed 4th toe drift towards big toe – I kind of ignored this symptom, putting it down to something that happens with a lot of running. I stopped running 6 weeks ago. I googled away & wrongly self diagnosed self with mortons nuroma (MN). Then, later, noticed that swelling is not generally associated with MN. I then noticed this thing called plantar plate tear/injury – then I realised that I ticked every box for it, including the toe drift. I live in Indonesia, no one has heard of a podiatrist here! So I hope to see one in Singapore in a couple weeks. Hopefully their treatment will support a non surgical recovery. Anyway, nice to read your and others comments on this blog. Cheers for now. Angus.

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