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Preventing heel pain when running

A runner's guide to plantar fasciitis heel pain

Many things can slow down your active lifestyle, but heel pain can definitely bring it to a stop. The most common form of heel pain in active people is known as plantar fasciitis (pronounced plan-tar fashee-eye-tiss). This occurs when the long, flat ligament on the bottom of the foot (plantar fascia) stretches irregularly and develops small tears that cause the ligament to become inflamed.

Although the fascia is invested with countless sturdy 'cables' of connective tissue called collagen fibres, it is certainly not immune to injury. In fact, about 5-10% of all athletic injuries are inflammations of the fascia, an incidence rate that in the United States would produce about a million cases of plantar fasciitis per year, just among runners and joggers.

Runners, basketball players, tennis players, volleyball players, step-aerobics participants and dancers are also prone to plantar problems, as are non-athletic people who spend a lot of time on their feet or suddenly become active after a long period of lethargy. A recent study found that over 50% of people who suffer from plantar fasciitis are on their feet nearly all day.

Plantar fasciitis usually develops gradually. Heel pain may only occur when taking the first steps after getting out of bed, or sitting for a long period of time. If the plantar fascia ligament is not rested, the inflammation and heel pain will get worse. Other conditions or aggravating factors, such as the repetitive stress of walking, standing, running, or jumping, will contribute to the inflammation and pain.

In some cases, the inflamed ligament may not heal because many people who have plantar fasciitis do not completely stop the aggravating activity.

In runners, a number of factors are associated with development of plantar fasciitis. These factors can lead the runner to change his or her gait (the way the feet strike the ground), which can cause symptoms and injury.

Risk factors for runners include:

  • Biomechanical factors, such as decreased flexibility in the foot and ankle, imbalances in muscle strength (muscles in one leg or foot are weaker than the other), abnormal foot mechanics (when stepping down), and tightness in the achilles tendon.
  • The repetitive nature of running and improper training.
  • Rapidly increasing the number of miles you run.
  • Running on steep hills.
  • Wearing running shoes that are worn out.
  • Wearing running shoes that do not have a cushioned sole or enough arch support.
  • Abruptly changing the intensity or duration of the running routine.

Traditional remedies for plantar fasciitis include stretching the calf, massaging, reducing your training, losing weight, purchasing better-fitting shoes (with a raised heel and arch support), icing the sore heel, and taking ibuprofen.

Another treatment option, also known as one of the easiest, is using heel seats in your running shoes. Heel seats pick up and re-stretch the plantar fascia, redistribute the heel’s natural fat pad, provide structural reinforcement to the foot, and apply acupressure to relieve the pain while your feet heal. You can find such heel seats through your podiatrist.

In any case, when you feel pain, your body is trying to warn you that something is wrong. See a doctor or specialist at the first sign of pain. Treating problems early is key to a healthy lifestyle and better running.

 

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