Heel pain is one of the most common complaints among runners.
This pain is often blamed on several overuse injuries, such as plantar fasciitis, or improper movement patterns, etc.
Would you like to learn how to swiftly manage and stop heel pain while running?
Then this article is for you.
By the end of this post, not only will we understand what heel pain in runners is all about, but also what to do when it comes to treating and preventing it.
Let’s lace and dig in.
What is Heel Pain
If you’re suffering from heel pain while running, know that there are many measures you can take to reach a resolution and see you pain-free.
But before we get into that, it’s key to understand what might be causing this heel pain from running in the first place.
Time for anatomy 101.
Your foot and ankle are composed of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons.
If you overuse or damage any of these structures, you may suffer heel pain. It can range from minor pain to a debilitating injury.
In fact, some cases of heel pain can be so severe that home treatment won’t ease your pain; therefore, you’ll need to have a doctor diagnose your case and prescribe treatment options.
The Causes of Heel Pain In Runners
There are several causes and injuries that can affect your heel and cause pain.
Let’s briefly discuss a few.
The plantar fascia is a thick and flat band of tissue that stretches along the base of the foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes.
Inflammation of this band of connective tissues on the bottom of the foot is what’s known as plantar fasciitis.
By far, the most common cause of heel pain in runners.
This injury is so common in the running world that it is often referred to as “runner’s heel.”
Another common overuse injury that causes heel pain in runners is Achilles Tendonitis.
The Achilles tendon is a fibrous cord that connects the back of the calf muscles to the heel bone.
When dealing with Achilles Tendonitis, this fibrous cord gets damaged and inflamed, especially where the tendon connects to the back of the heel.
Heel spurs refer to abnormal bony enlargement that develops around the heel bone where the tendon joins it.
This causes damage to the tendon and results in pain when rubbing against shoes.
If you feel pain in the center or the back of your heel where the the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone, you might be dealing with bursitis.
Bursa consists of fluid-filled sacs that cushion tendons, muscles, and joints.
They typically act as a lubricant and cushion between your muscles or tendon sliding over bone.
Bursitis is an inflammation of these bursae.
The injury strikes, as you can already guess when these sacs become inflamed.
Anatomical deficiencies in the foot, especially when combined with improper footwear, bad technique, or overuse, can cause heel pain during and/or after running.
These imbalances can cause—or contribute—to muscle imbalances that put a strain on one or more tendons, leading to irritation and pain over the long run.
For example, if you have high arches, most of the running’s impact might be focused on the top of the arch.
This can cause excess strain on the plantar fascia.
As far as I can tell, the most common heel pain causes in runners are Plantar fasciitis and Achilles Tendinitis.
Here are more factors that contribute to the onset of heel pain:
- Being overweight or obese
- Poor gait mechanics
- Tight calf muscles that limit the proper range of motion in the ankle joint
- Stress fractures
- Nerve irritation
How To Treat Heel Pain From Running
Home treatment works best if you address the symptoms early, so start managing your pain as soon as you feel any sort of ankle pain during or after running.
Here are the steps you need to take to reduce pain, stress, and inflammation.
Your first step should be to stop training and give the affected limb enough rest.
As a rule, take a rest from running and other weight-bearing movements that cause pain.
Resume training only when your symptoms fade.
To soothe pain and improve your flexibility, perform gentle foot stretches three times a day for at least five minutes each session.
Cold therapy is a convenient and easy way to soothe heel pain by reducing inflammation in the affected area.
Take a sports water bottle, put it in the freezer, then roll your arch over it for 15 to 20 minutes every morning.
Try Out Inserts
Also known as insoles or orthotics, inserts can provide extra support and cushion to not only help soothe your pain but also prevent further damage.
Insoles fit inside your running shoes and function as a shock absorber between the base of the feet and the base of the shoe.
These inserts may help improve your stability and correct muscle imbalances as well as prevent your foot from moving excessively or incorrectly.
You can get inserts over-the-counter (OTC) or have them specifically made for you.
It all depends on your needs and your budget.
The rest is just details.
Always Have Your Shoes On
To prevent further irritation and stress to your heel, avoid going barefoot, especially when you’re still recovering from heel pain.
Most experts recommend wearing some type of cushioning footwear for up to 6 weeks.
This is how long it can take for soft tissue injuries to heal.
Have Some Drugs
In cases of stubborn pain, consider taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
Feel free also to experiment with natural pain relievers such as turmeric, cloves, and fish oil supplements.
When to See A Doctor
Mild cases of heel pain from running can be treated with home treatments and preventive measures.
But if symptoms refuse to subside within a few weeks, consult your doctor or a physical therapist for more options.
Book a visit to a doctor if you experience one or more of the following:
- Pain onsets suddenly
- Pain is so severe that’s changing your gait
- Swelling your heel
- Redness in your heel
- You can’t weight bear on the affected heel
A professional can helps you diagnose the right culprits behind your pain and recommend a suitable treatment plan.
This may include shockwave therapy or corticosteroid injection into the affected area to soothe inflammation and pain.
Immobilize Your Foot
In case your doctor recommends keeping the affected limb immobile, try a walking case or night splint.
This helps add more support to your ankle and foot, speeding up recovery.
Your doctor, or podiatrist, will prescribe the most appropriate stretches for you to perform as a part of your treatment plan.
You can stretch your calf a few times throughout the day.
I’d recommend using a towel or belt to stretch your calf muscles. Do this first thing in the morning before you get out of bed for 45 to 60 seconds.
Standing Calf Stretch
Just be careful. Aggressive stretching may further irritate or damage injured tissues, so it’s always best to get the green light from your doctor before doing any stretching.
Consistent physical activity is the ideal natural anti-inflammatory measure you can take, so even if you find yourself injured, make sure to keep moving.
All in all, choose exercises that cause no to minimum pain in the affected limb.
As long as it’s a workout routine you love, and it’s not making your symptoms worse, you’re doing it right.
You have many options, such as pool running, elliptical machine, yoga, cycling, and other low-impact exercises.
It’s really up to you.
The most important thing to keep in mind when recovering from heel pain is patience.
The rest is just details, as the saying goes.
How To Prevent Heel Pain From Running
Here are some of the measures you can take right now to protect your heels from injury while running.
After all, the best way to treat an injury is not to get it in the first place.
Prevention is better than cure.
Most overuse running injuries, especially those that cause heel pain, do not come from nowhere.
They gradually onset by doing too much, too soon.
That’s why opting for a sensible running program that allows your body to gradually get adapted to changes in distance and speed is key for staying injury-free.
The best thing you can do is to come up with a running plan that’s in line with your training goals and fitness level.
Do this by setting realistic and challenging goals.
Keep A Healthy Weight
Being obese adds extra pressure on your legs, especially your heels and ankle.
Carrying a lot of weight causes you to bear too much load on your joints, especially your heels, ankles, and knees.
In case your heel pain is stopping from your weight-bearing exercises, try low-impact workouts such as swimming, strength training, cycling, water running, and yoga.
By contrast, losing weight can helps get lighter on your feet and provides you with much more balance and power when you run—not to mention the long list of fitness and health benefits.
Improve Your Form
Another thing you can do to protect yourself against heel pain is to identify any abnormal movement patterns or muscle imbalances in your lower body that may contribute to pain.
This is why conducting a running gait analysis can come in handy.
According to conventional wisdom, having a heel-foot strike, where the heel is the first to make contact with the ground upon impact, may cause heel pain.
If it’s the case, try changing your footstrike to a forefoot or midfoot point and see if that helps soothe your heel pain.
Just remember that this doesn’t work for everyone.
Foot strike patterns is still a contested topic in the running world.
As far as I can tell, most of the advice given on the subject is anecdotal—my advice is no exception.
Proceed with care.
Run On the Right Surfaces
To reduce your risk of heel pain, as well as other overuse injuries, try to do the bulk of your running on the right surfaces.
Whenever possible, avoid running on hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete.
For more, try varying your running surfaces, running on a dirt path, grass, and synthetic tracks.
If you got no choice but to run on a hard surface, then at the very least, make sure you’re using a pair of supportive running shoes to help absorb some of the shocks.
Damage to the tissue of the heel may occur as a result of improper warm-ups—or skipping them altogether.
That’s why it’s always helpful to prepare your body for a run by investing a few minutes in doing a warm-up.
I’d recommend 5 to 10 minutes of brisk walking or light jogging followed by dynamic stretches.
The most important muscles to target include your calves, hamstrings, quadriceps, and groin.
Here’s my favorite warm-up routine.
Run In The Right Shoes
As a runner, your shoes are the most important piece of gear.
Your footwear should fit your foot well and provide plenty of cushion and support—or else, don’t even bother.
As a rule of thumb, choose running shoes that support the structure of your feet and are designed for running.
A good shoe should have plenty of arch support and an elevated heel.
How to get started?
Head to the nearest running specialty store where the staff can analyze your gait and make the right recommendations so you can find the most supportive and proper shoes possible.
You should also make sure that your shoes aren’t too tight, narrow, or small.
Give a few pairs a test before you decide on one.
Also, remember to replace your shoes regularly, especially if it starts to wear down on the heel.
When you run in worn-out shoes, your feet may take in a lot of abnormal stresses, which makes you more prone to injury.
The rule of thumb is to replace running shoes every 400 to 500 miles.
Strength And Stretch
It’s also key to maintain a good range of mobility and strength in the joints and muscles surrounding your ankles.
When you regularly strengthen and stretch your ankles and feet, you help ensure that your muscles are providing the maximum support.
These moves may also improve the range of motion in your feet, keeping you injury-free as long as possible.
Lack of mobility and strength sets the stage for muscular imbalances and dysfunctions in the lower legs that can result in an overuse injury.
Here are a few of the moves you should incorporate into your cross-training routine to help promote flexibility and strength throughout your feet.
You’ll definitely run stronger thanks to these moves.
Pay Attention to Your Body
Last but not least, the best thing you can do to protect against heel pain from running—and all types of injuries—is to listen to your body and re-adjust your training approach accordingly.
You don’t want to run through the pain, after all.
Don’t fall for the no pain, no gain hype.
It’s doesn’t work that way in the real world (unless you’re a top athlete and know exactly what you’re doing).
Pain is always a sign that you need to alter—or stop altogether—what you’re doing.
Never ignore the pain.
More than often, pain tells you that something is wrong.
There you have it!
The above tips cover some of the best guidelines for treating and preventing heel pain from running.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Keep Running Strong