Ski Boots: Why do my feet hurt?
Pain in the forefoot/ball of the foot (metatarsalgia) is a common discomfort felt by many skiers. Numbness, a burning sensation or just general aches and pains can all drain the enjoyment from a day's skiing. But why do we get foot pain when skiing and how can we resolve it?
The key reasons why the forefoot tends to suffer more than the mid and rear foot are its mobility and lack of resistance to compression from above and the sides. When walking, our foot has evolved to adapt to changing terrain and provide shock absorption, this means that the bones of our forefoot are very mobile and constantly have to adapt. Similar to compressing the knuckle of your hands from the sides, the balls of our feet don't put up much resistance to being squashed. When you combine this with an abundance of nerves, muscles and blood vessels running in and around this area, it's no wonder that prolonged compression will lead to discomfort.
There are three main causes for foot pain in ski boots:
- Tight fitting boots
- Uneven pressure distribution
Ski Boot Pain Cause no. 1 - Tight Ski Boots
Tight fitting dimensions are by far the most common cause of pain we see in ski boots, either from a new liner requiring breaking in or the shell being slightly too tight. This can be easily checked for in advance by removing the liner and checking the spacing in key areas such as length, width, height and general fit around the cuff and ankle.
Often symptoms of this type of fitting include a burning sensation or ache across and around the entire forefoot area, leading to numbness. This can become unbearable requiring the skier to remove the boots and it often feels like the pain spreads to the toes and the rest of the foot.
Solutions to this problem can be found in using a supportive footbed which prevents collapsing of the arches (causing the foot to get wider and longer), using a lower volume sock and/or performing shell modifications such as stretching and grinding of the shell's plastics creating a wider fitting boot around the problem areas.
Ski Boot Pain Cause no. 2 - Inflexibility
The foot's natural tendency to change shape and alignment within the boot is also a common cause of foot pain. Our feet work as dynamic bio-mechanical propulsion devices; first when placing our foot down it adapts to the terrain by collapsing and acting as a shock absorber (getting wider, longer and with the foot rolling inwards), then the foot rolls outwards and locks into a strong rigid lever for propulsion. Unfortunately for us skiers, the shell of a ski boot is rigid and doesn't flex or allow for this to occur comfortably.
The symptoms for this cause of foot pain are slightly more isolated when compared to that of general tightness. A burning or aching sensation running across the outside of the foot is often felt at first which then leads to a more widespread pain and numbness.
To resolve this we need to use some form of effective foot support. Using pre-molded insoles offers a good alternative to the flat or unsupportive insoles we find inside ski boots. Custom insoles use a stiffer template and stabilizer to offer the maximum amount of support and control. Regardless of the type of support, we need to try and maintain a more stable and neutral position of the foot between rolling inwards/outwards (i.e the motions of pronation/supination).
Ski Boot Pain Cause no. 3 - Uneven pressure distribution
The third and final cause of fore-foot pain is pressure distribution. Excessive pressure to the sole of the forefoot is common for high arched feet or those with limited ankle flex. We can identify both of these in-store by using either a podoscope/Thermic measure or a variation of ankle flex tests.
Poor pressure distribution will cause a burning sensation under the ball of the foot which can take as little as 5-10mins to start, if the boots aren't removed it's then common to experience bruising and soreness leaving the skier wanting to lift the foot and ski to remove the pressure/ease the discomfort (or just remove all kit).
The solution for excessive pressure to the sole in the case of a high arch is to provide arch support which spreads the load. If it's identified that limited ankle flex is the cause, the forward lean (in short; forwards angle of cuff) needs to be eased off. We can do this by removing spoilers from behind the calf muscle. Other adjustments maybe available depending on the type of ski boot you have and in more extreme cases we can modify the shell or liner to allow a more upright stance.
If you're experiencing ski boot foot pain, speak with one of our ski boot fitting experts. They have all undergone the Surefit Training Programme, which means they are among the UK's leading ski boot fitting experts, and they'll be happy to help and explain in more detail what we can do to alleviate any pain or discomfort you have.