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I've developed a bunion on my left foot. It hurts a little when I run on it, but not so much that it disrupts my exercise. Can I just leave it, or should I get it seen to?

I've developed a bunion on my left foot. It hurts a little when I run on it, but not so much that it disrupts my exercise. Can I just leave it, or should I get it seen to?

Ray Lloyd, by email

Contrary to popular belief, bunions, a swelling of the first joint of the big toe, are generally inherited rather than caused by tight or ill-fitting shoes. The amount the swelling sticks out isn't important, unless it's extreme. The important thing is the mobility of the joint. Keep moving it up and down, without causing pain. The tendon that lifts up the big toe pulls it out by acting like a bowstring as the deformity gets worse, but most people never need an operation. Invest in good comfortable trainers that give your toe room to move. A bunion protector can also help stop rubbing and callous formation.

I've started playing club hockey. I've got a fair shot, but I'm clumsy with my dribbling and reverse-stick technique. Are there any drills I can use to improve?

Julie Jamieson, Corby

Getting to used to the feel of your stick and the ball takes time. Juggling with a ball, using every side of the stick, either on the move or standing still, can be surprisingly helpful. Dribbling around cones or other obstacles is also useful, but can get boring. A good practice if you can enlist one or more friends is to juggle either a hockey or tennis ball three times before passing it in the air friend. You can play with two or three people, when it becomes a sort of "volleyball".

I suffer from stiff hamstring muscles. There seem countless ways of stretching them, but what is the best and safest method?

Valerie Sharp, London

Bad stretching techniques can cause injury themselves, and doctors have yet to prove conclusively that stretching healthy muscles and tendons really does prevent injury. Stretching is not as important as co-ordinated function of the muscle, improved by sports-specific strength and conditioning programmes. Hamstring tears are caused by unco-ordinated muscle contraction, most likely to happen when you are running absolutely flat out, if you're tired, or not properly conditioned or warmed up. But if your hamstrings are so tight their range is limited, stretching is sensible. Make sure you are fully warmed up, and don't overdo it. If you are standing, put one leg on a chair. If you are sitting put it forward in a hurdle position. Keep your back slightly arched as you reach down and forward to stretch your hamstring. This will limit how far you can reach, but is a safer and more effective.

When I run downhill I feel a stabbing pain in the small of my back. Do you know what the problem might be, and how I might solve it?

Joe Emmett, by email

Running downhill causes more impact and stress on the body than running uphill or on the flat. This is exacerbated if you are too relaxed or tired, so that you hit each step without cushioning or shock absorbency from the stabilising muscles. Core stability exercises (see article left) will help. There are many causes of back pain, so if it doesn't settle down you should see your doctor or a sports medicine specialist.

In this week's panel alongside Dr Richard Budgett, the medical director of the British Olympic Association, was Jools Autret, coaching consultant for PlanetFieldHockey.com.

Send your questions to: Sportsactive, The Independent on Sunday, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or email: sportsactive@ independent.co.uk

While we take great care in answering your queries, Independent Newspapers and the contributors to Sports Clinic cannot be held liable for any advice tendered, and you should consult your own practitioner

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