Running, as good as it is for you, puts a lot of stress on the feet. Over time, all that pounding on the pavement can irritate the bottom of the feet, particularly the heel. In fact, heel pain is one of the most common complaints of runners, according to Podiatry Today.
The good news is that you probably won't need to hang up your running shoes forever. Heel pain usually resolves on its own with conservative treatment if you rest your aching heel. Consult your doctor, however, if the pain persists or is severe.
The Cause of the 'Ouch!'
The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a ligament on the bottom of the foot that connects the ball of the foot to the heel. Other common causes of heel pain include bone spurs, bruised fat pad, calcaneal stress fracture, heel bursitis and Achilles tendonitis.
One reason you can experience heel pain is from simple overuse. If you've been doing long, arduous runs for days on end, you might need to just take a couple days off. It's better to rest now than to be sidelined for weeks or even months.
Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, canbe used to reduce pain and swelling. Try to rest your foot for at least one week and avoid running or standing on your feet for prolonged periods, and apply ice to the heel for 10 to 15 minutes at least two times a day to reduce pain and swelling.
If you've never been fitted professionally for running shoes, this is the time to do it. It could be improperly fitting shoes that's causing the pain. Once a pro has made the determination of the best shoe for you, buying a heel cup of orthotic can provide a bit of extra cushioning in the heel area.
When to See the Doc
If the pain is too bad to manage, even if you're just walking, then you should make an appointment with a sports medicine doctor. Other signs that you need to see a professional include tingling or numbness in the heel, the inability to push up on your toes, pain at rest or pain that persists more than a month. A doctor might be able to prescribe cortisone injections or, in the most extreme case, recommend surgery.
Preventing the Pain
Prevent heel pain in the future by regularly stretching after your runs. The plantar fascia stretch and calf stretch are two stretches that may be beneficial for stretching tight muscles of the foot.
To perform the plantar fascia stretch, sit down in a chair and place your injured heel over your other knee. Pull your toes toward you slowly, while feeling a stretch on the bottom of the foot. Hold for 10 seconds and perform 20 repetitions.
To do the calf stretch, place both hands on a wall and put one leg behind the other. Keep the back leg straight and the one in front slightly bent. Make sure both heels are flat against the ground and lean forward slightly, while feeling a stretch in the calf. Hold for 10 seconds and perform 20 repetitions.
Words of Warning
If you are just getting into running or getting back into an old running routine, build up your mileage slowly. Running high mileages when you are not properly conditioned can result in injury because the muscles fatigue quickly. Additionally, replace running shoes about every six months, depending on the mileage you are logging in them. Worn-out shoes can easily cause injuries and pain.