Pounding the pavement can quickly come to a halt when you start to feel sharp pangs radiating through your heel.
Heel pain is a common complaint of many runners and it is largely caused by injuries including plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis.
5 Things Your Heel Pain May Be Trying to Tell You
A 2012 report actually found that 1 in 10 people will experience plantar fasciitis in their lifetime, with much higher incidences in the athletic community. That’s huge!
Good runners know an important part of running is body awareness. When it comes to heel pain, there are a few things your body could be trying to tell you:
You Need New Running Shoes
Older running shoes with worn out edges can be a serious culprit of heel pain. How exactly? Typically running shoes should last you around 500 miles worth of running. After that, wear and tear of the shoe itself can actually alter your running form potentially throwing your pronation off, and leading to common running injuries like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, and shin splints.
Shod running, where a runner strikes the ground heel first when running instead of with their forefoot, in worn out shoes can place added strain both on the foot, as well as the ankle and calf. Added internal stress from having to work harder to stabilize and support your weight when running, can pull on muscles and tendons in the leg and foot, including the plantar fascia tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes. Microscopic tears, inflammation, and potentially even ruptures can send piercing pain signals through your heel making it hard to run or even walk.
It’s Time to Stretch
Some heel pain from common running injuries due to overuse, worn out running shoes, increased hill work or mileage, may be aided by appropriate and routine stretching. Because the Achilles tendon, for example, runs the length of the calf all the way down to the heel, when it is stiff and inflamed, it can cause fiery heel pain. Stretching and drawing out calf muscles post-training can be beneficial to keeping the Achilles tendon and surrounding tissues limber, pliable, and less likely to strain.
Foot stretches and strengthening also play an important role in preventing and relieving heel pain associated specifically with plantar fasciitis. While sitting down, take a foam roller or even a full can of vegetables or frozen water bottle, and place it on the ground. Roll your foot back and forth over it, helping stretch out the tissues in the bottom of the foot, break up scar tissue, and boost blood flow.
You Have a Splinter
Seems simple enough, but a close examination of the foot when experiencing even fleeting acute heel pain could reveal more harmless culprits than an injury – like a splinter or skin irritation from a blister, corn, or plantars wart. Footcare is especially important for runners and people training for marathons. Washing and drying feet thoroughly each night, moisturizing with a hydrating lotion, and even massaging for a few minutes can keep skin supple, increase circulation to vital tissues and joints, as well as help you monitor pain points.
You Might Want to Try Insoles
If a visit to the doctor or sports medicine specialist has helped you track down the cause of your heel pain, an orthotic insole may be recommended to aid recovery and power pain-free training. The best insoles for heel pain will address the underlying causes of your heel pain, whether it’s lack of arch support, ankle instability, plantar fasciitis, or Achilles tendinitis.
Orthotic insoles can be bought over the counter in most pharmacies, drug stores, or big box stores, as well as online. They are often made from cushioned materials including gel, foam, and silicone, and are designed to both reduce discomfort as well as promote proper pronation and running form. Remember, jamming insoles into already pretty tight running shoes will only exacerbate issues you already have going on. Running shoes should always allow room for your foot to breath with space in the toe box, even with an insole in them.
You’re Running Too Much, Too Fast
Ever heard the term “weekend runner”? For those runners and marathon trainees who get slammed by work all week and don’t have time to hit the pavement, the weekend provides a window of opportunity to jam in as much mileage as possible. The result? Gradual heel pain that grows with more severity as the months roll by.
Just like worn out running shoes, drastically increasing mileage week to week, taking on significantly harder hill work suddenly, and even switching terrains (road to trails, for example) can lead to strain, tearing, and inflammation associated with plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis. Not only can the heel pain be excruciating, but left untreated, can result in sidelining your running hobby or career for many months.
When it comes to heel pain, don’t ignore what your body is trying to tell you. Early, proactive actions towards treating the underlying causes of heel pain may just be the ticket to keeping you running and competing for years to come.
Written by Joe Flemming