Why Do My Heels and Ankles Hurt on the Treadmill?

gym running
A woman is running on a treadmill. (Image: Ancika/iStock/Getty Images)

With 26 bones, 33 joints, 122 ligaments and a large network of blood vessels, nerves and tendons, your feet and ankles are complex structures that endure a lot of stress each time you run, walk or jog on a treadmill. As a result of this stress, you may experience pain or injury from time to time. While not all injuries are preventable, stretching and wearing appropriate footwear while using a treadmill can help reduce instances of pain.

Heel Pain

Instances of heel pain are common with treadmill use. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, heel pain is the most common problem affecting the foot and ankle. While a majority of heel pain usually gets better on its own, ignoring the signs can lead to chronic heel pain. Heel pain can be the result of a bruise, which can occur from stepping down too hard as you run on your treadmill. It can also be the result of plantar fasciitis, which is the inflammation of the band of tendon that connects your heel with your toes. Another condition often associated with plantar fasciitis is heel spurs. Heel spurs are the result of long-term plantar fasciitis that causes a buildup of calcium deposits underneath your heel. Heel pain can also occur in the form of fractures, Achilles tendinitis or bursitis.

Ankle Pain

The most common cause of ankle pain normally occurs as the result of a sprain. You can sprain your ankle by accidentally twisting or turning it out of its normal range of motion. Sprains can create small tears in your ankle ligaments. Tendinitis and arthritis can also cause ankle pain while walking, running or jogging on a treadmill.

Warming Up

Warming up and stretching prior to running on a treadmill can help to loosen the muscles, tendons and ligaments of your heels and ankles, which can reduce the risk of developing a traumatic or overuse injury. A warm-up should include 5 to 10 minutes of slow walking or using an elliptical machine. You should also stretch your feet, ankles and lower legs before engaging in a heavy workout on your treadmill. Exercises can include heel raises, calf stretches, ankle circles, toe alphabets, a plantar fascia stretch or stretches with a resistance band.

Footwear

Wearing appropriate footwear is extremely important when using a treadmill. Appropriate footwear can help reduce the risk of injury and occurrences of pain in your feet. You should invest in a good pair of running shoes and remember to replace these shoes as they become worn or damaged. Your shoes should have room for your toes to wiggle and fit the anatomy of your foot -- including shape, weight, running regimen and how your foot functions. Individuals who have flat feet should consider an orthotic device to help absorb shock and provide stability in your midfoot. If you are unsure of what type of shoes to buy, visit a running-shoe store. A specialist can help you pick out the appropriate shoes. You should visit the store with the type of socks you plan on wearing, and go in the afternoon for an appropriate fit. Remember, shoes should be comfortable when you buy them; you should not have to break them in. A podiatrist can also evaluate your footwear. If you plan to run on a treadmill regularly, making annual appointments with a podiatrist can help reduce your risk of pain and injury.

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