Life has a way of sending signals our way to tell us when something needs to be done. Starting to hear a squeal while braking? You probably need new pads. Bag of kibble knocked over onto the kitchen floor? You probably need to feed the dog. Heel pain that flares up during or after running? Yes, this too probably means you need to make some sort of change. We can practically feel the apprehension exuding from some of you upon hearing that. Yes, your heels might hurt but no, you don’t want to do anything that might interfere with your routine! We get it. We really do. We run too, and we know how important of a motivation and release it can be to get out there consistently. We certainly don’t want you to give up running if you can avoid it, either. But there remains one big truth: Heel pain while running is sign of a problem. Continuing to endure your pain without taking the right steps to address that problem is not only going to very likely be miserable, but increase your risk of developing even worse trouble that can force you off track for good. A professional evaluation and course of treatment will be the best approach to taking care of heel pain. There are multiple conditions that can cause heel pain, and it is always important to determine which is at play in order to effectively treat it. When piecing together potential causes, however, we might seek answers to some questions. They are well worth considering now.
Are Your Shoes Working for You or Against You?
Your running shoes are a crucial piece of equipment, designed to provide the support and cushioning your feet and ankles need to endure the repetitive stresses of running. Not every shoe is the same, however. Shoes that are not designed for running might not have the necessary qualities, which can lead to much more force being applied to your feet than needed. This can easily result in problems such as plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis. Similarly, running shoes that did the trick when you got them can gradually lose their support over time and wear. Running shoes that have been with you more than 300 or 400 miles may be supportive to you on a sentimental level, but may not be holding up at all on a physical one.
Does Your Gait Need Accommodation?
A problem that can plague many runners is overpronation. In other words, the foot rolls too far inward as it makes contact with the ground. This can cause problems not only with heel pain, but affect our overall structure in such a way that the knees, hips, or lower back can also start feeling strain. Overpronation is caused by an abnormality in the shape of the foot—notably, flat feet or fallen arches. The good news is that this condition is easily accommodated by custom orthotics, running shoes especially made for providing support and control, and even stretches and exercises that can provide further strength to supporting areas. It is also worth noting that some runners will supinate, or have their foot roll too far outward while running. This symptom is often accompanied by high arches.
Is Your Routine Too Demanding?
“Overuse” is a word that should be in every runner’s vocabulary. Even if you have the best possible shoes and other effects for your feet, pushing your body too hard can still give it too much strain than it is currently conditioned to handle. This can lead to an injury in a relatively short time (such as if you’re taking off from a dead stop into a full-on sprint) or over the long run (running too frequently without taking appropriate rest periods). When we put physical stress on our bodies, we are essentially breaking down our muscles, bones, and other soft tissues on a microscopic level. When we rest, our bodies take that time to recover from these tiny injuries and grow stronger. That’s training in a nutshell! But if you push yourself too hard, too fast or simply never give your body a proper chance to rest, those tiny injuries remain and the bones and tissues grow weaker. Eventually, they can get injured, such as is the case with stress fractures. If you are focusing every day on running, odds are good that you are piling too much stress on your feet and ankles over time. There should be definitive, built in rest days in your schedule where you straight up rest, or at least concentrate on other areas of the body instead. We or a professional trainer can help point you in the right direction.
Listen to Your Signs
If you have been struggling with heel pain for more than a few days, do not wait for it to go away without making any sort of changes or receiving treatment. In most cases, it simply won’t go away—and in many it can even get worse! Southern Oregon Foot & Ankle has helped many runners and athletes with sports injuries of all types, incorporating both tried and true traditional treatments as well as more advanced methods such as MLS Laser Therapy. Our goals are to get people back into action as quickly and as safely as possible, helping to prevent further problems down the road. Give our Medford office a call at (541) 776-3338 to schedule an appointment. If you prefer to contact us electronically, please feel free to fill out our online contact form instead.