Heel pain caused by running is most commonly caused by plantar fasciitis. The fascia is a band of tissue that runs from the base of the toes to the heel, along the arch of the foot. According to Drs. Steven Neufield and Rebecca Cerrato, the problem can be fixed without surgery 90 percent of the time. Plantar fasciitis is only one of several triggers of heel discomfort.
Pain can also be caused by heel spurs, which occur when the plantar fascia pulls on the heel long enough to cause the bone to grow abnormally. Another ailment, nerve irritation, is called calcaneal nerve entrapment. Pain on the back of the heel stems from Achilles tendonitis, or when the large calf muscle tendon gets inflamed, or swells, where it attaches to the heel.
Plantar fasciitis is notorious for lingering and recurring in runners. When chronic, it is called plantar faciosis. Seek medical help early to learn pain-management strategies and ensure the problem does not become a long-term issue. Physical therapists have several treatment options to choose from along with tips for treatment at home.
In his book, “Galloway’s Book on Running,” Jeff Galloway writes that plantar fasciitis often causes pain in the heel after first getting out of bed. Once up and walking, the pain may subside. Likewise, the pain may be intense after sitting for long periods of time. There will be swelling in and around the fascia but not enough to see with the naked eye. Even small amounts of inflammation in this area cause intense pain.
While plantar fasciitis may be the most common cause of heel pain, have a medical professional examine the injury to be sure. Melisa Bronstein, physical therapist and educator, explains that heel pain issues can be confusing or even overlap. For example, Achilles tendonitis can be mistaken for, or occur in conjunction with, a lesser-known ailment called calcaneal apophysitis, which occurs when the nearby growth plate fails to completely close. The potential for ambiguity in diagnoses warrants a trip to the doctor’s office to ensure proper and effective treatment.
Galloway, a runner himself, lists several cheap methods to reduce heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis. First, get plent of rest, and never go barefoot. Even when first getting out of bed, wear supportive footwear. (Flip-flops and slippers don’t count.) Rolling a golf ball under your arch can help loosen the tissue and curling your toes repetitively can help strengthen the region. Freeze a bottle of water and roll it under the arch after running to prevent new inflammation. If these simple tips don’t help, make an appointment with your doctor or physical therapist.
About this Author
Shelly Wyrick specialized in orthopedics and oncology before pursuing a freelance writing career. She is a regular contributor to Youth Runner Magazine, and her therapy research has been published in several medical journals. Wyrick holds a master’s degree in physical therapy from Marquette University.