Runners and Heel Pain

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Running is one of the biggest culprits in the development of heel pain and unfortunately, the more you run the more likely you are to experience this type of discomfort. Almost every serious runner out there has had to deal with this issue at least once in their life.

What Causes Running Heel Pain?

Running heel pain can occur for several reasons but there are few things that are particularly bad for foot and heel health, and they are as follows:

Incorrect Pronation of the Foot: Ideally, whenever a runner’s foot strikes the track or treadmill the right degree of lateral motion will occur in both the ankle joint and the inner foot. We all know, however, that it’s not an ideal world and that most runners either tilt inward or tilt outward far too much when their feet land and push off of the ground again.  Both of these deviations place excessive pressure on the plantar fascia, which more often than not leads to heel pain.

Too Long of a Stride: Beginning runners frequently try to improve their time and their speed by taking too long of a stride while running. The problem with this is that it forces the foot to land too far in front of the knee, which means that the heel is taking a harder impact than it was designed to absorb. It’s only a matter of time before heel pain becomes the norm if stride length isn’t shortened.

Running Up Hills: Running uphill not only seriously increases the amount of pressure on the plantar fascia but it also causes strain and intense tightness in the calf muscles. Both of these situations can lead to inflammation of the fascia and heel pain on their own but when they occur at the same time the situation can become particularly dangerous. It is crucial that the calf muscles get well stretched after running up hills if you wish to avoid serious discomfort.

Running on Unforgiving Surfaces:  Hard and unyielding surfaces will cause the impact of every foot strike to be absorbed primarily by your feet and legs, which is not an ideal condition for preventing heel pain. Avoid running on concrete at all costs and try to use more forgiving surfaces such as a cross-country trail, a running track, or a treadmill whenever possible.

Your Sneakers: While there are fewer things more exciting to a runner than a new pair of trainers it’s a common mistake to run long distances in shoes that have not yet been broken in.  The problem with new shoes is that the material can be overly stiff and unforgiving, and while sneakers with good support are a requirement your feet also need to be able to move through a complete range of motion for even distribution of pressure, or you risk developing plantar fasciitis and serious heel pain.

How to Treat Running Heel Pain

In order to recover from running heel pain the first thing you will have to do is run less, which is a nightmare for every devoted runner out there. But no matter what your average mile per day is you are going to have to cut back until this condition your condition heals. This doesn’t mean that you can’t be active however; it just means that you’re going to have to be open minded about the kind of training sessions you will be doing while you take a break from running. Here are a few activities that you can do that won’t interfere with recovering from running heel pain:

Swimming: This is a wonderful form of activity to do as it will help you maintain your cardiovascular conditioning without the risk of aggravating your injury. Being in the water also provides resistance training so that you can keep your muscles toned without putting undue stress on your muscles and joints.

Deep Water Running: This activity is also done in the water, so I hope you like getting wet. All you need for this activity is a flotation device and deep enough water that you can fully extend your legs without worrying about hitting bottom. The best way to perform this exercise is to do brief intervals of sprinting coupled with gently treading water. This is very physically demanding, so be sure to stretch when you’re done, and if you feel any discomfort in the heel apply ice immediately after each session.

Bicycling: This is a fine temporary replacement for running as long as you follow a few rules: first, you need to stay relaxed, you also need to make sure to push off from the heel of your foot and not your toe; pushing off from the front of your foot will create more tension in your plantar fascia and this in turn will cause more heel pain.  You should also stick to flat surfaces and keep your sessions to less than one hour; if you find that you’re still experiencing substantial heel pain then get off the bike and get into the pool.

Back on Track

When you experience running heel pain it’s better to be safe than sorry and to ensure that you are fully healed before you return to running regularly. If you are working with a doctor or podiatrist you will have to wait until they give you the go-ahead, otherwise, it’s up to you to make the call.

You should be completely pain free for several weeks before you start running again, and be sure to wear the best footwear possible when you do venture out again. Here are a few points to consider when you’re about to lace up again:

Wear a Designated Running Shoe: Running shoes are specifically designed for running; this means that they have a raised heel to reduce tension on the calf muscle and Achilles tendon, which helps reduce the risk of plantar fasciitis and heel pain. Do not accidently purchase a cross-trainer or tennis shoe, and never buy a shoe for running just because you like the way it looks!

Perform a Bend-Test: Before you go out for your first run check your shoe to make sure that it bends at the ball of the foot and not in the middle. If you’re buying new trainers make sure you verify how they bend before you buy.

Try a New Type of Shoe: Walking and running activates the windlass mechanism in our foot, which basically means that our plantar fascia tightens and releases as we move, creating a spring action in the foot that helps us to move effectively and to properly absorb the impact of our feet hitting the ground. Wearing shoes prevents this mechanism from doing its job, however, several companies offer running shoes that are created to both provide adequate support and allow for proper functioning of this mechanism.

Add Heel Pads: Running shoes usually come equipped with raise heels, but if you find you need a little more support in this department you can easily find the appropriate orthotics at the pharmacy. Just be sure that you are comfortable with your purchase and try to gradually get used to wearing them if you can.

Conclusion

Coping with running heel pain is frustrating for dedicated runners because it requires time, patience, and a little bit of trial and error but the end result of being pain free is well worth the wait.

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