Running Heel Pain

running injury heel pain

Runners are prone to experiencing heel pain for a variety of reasons, and the more a person runs the more likely they are to experience this type of injury. Unfortunately, the more devoted you are to this activity the more intimately familiar you will be with this type of discomfort.

The Causes of Running Heel Pain

There are many causes for heel pain in runners but the following list addresses the most common reasons:

Over or Under Pronation: In an ideal world when a runner’s foot hits the ground there would be just the right amount of lateral movement in the foot and ankle joint. Unfortunately, most runners either have feet that ‘tip’ to the inside too much when their feet strike the ground, or they ‘tip’ too little. Both of these conditions put extra strain on the plantar fascia and this can lead to heel pain.

Overly Long Stride: Novice runners often make the mistake of taking too long of a stride and this action forces the foot out in front of the knee when the foot hits the ground. When this occurs the heel hits the ground with more force than it was designed to take, and eventually it will begin to hurt.

Running Up Hills: This activity dramatically increases the tension load in the plantar fascia, and too much tension eventually leads to pain in the heel. Furthermore, the act of running uphill strains and tightens the calf muscles, which of course leads to inflammation of the fascia and heel pain as well. Stretching the calves after running up hill is absolutely mandatory if you wish to avoid this type of discomfort.

Running on Hard Surfaces:  Running on unforgiving surfaces such as concrete means that the shock of impact of your foot hitting the ground is not being absorbed at all and its being completely transferred into your body through your feet. When possible, run on a track or on softer surfaces such as outdoor trails or a treadmill.

Your Sneakers: Stiff new shoes can cause plantar fasciitis and running heel pain. Shoes with good support are necessary but you may need to take the time to break in a new pair of sneakers so that you can maximize your range of motion and distribute the pressure more evenly throughout the foot.

How to Recover From Running Heel Pain

When recovering from this type of pain you will most likely have to run less, which is of course the very thing that most dedicated runners dread hearing. This doesn’t mean that you have to give up physical activity altogether though; it just means that you have to move out of your comfort zone and try other activities for a little while. Here are a few suggestions:

Swimming: Swimming is a great activity to try when you’re recovering from running heel pain. It is an excellent form of cardiovascular activity, it provides enough resistance to keep your muscles taught, and it is very easy on your joint and ligaments.

Deep Water Running: If you simply cannot quell the urge to run even for a couple of weeks then head to the deep end of the pool for some deep water running. You will want to use a flotation device so that you can focus on the running aspect of things; simply exaggerate your usual running movements and make sure that your feet never touch the bottom of the pool. Make sure to stretch after these sessions, and if you feel any pain in your arch or heel stop immediately.

Bicycling: Biking is a good option but only if you take it easy, stick to relatively flat surfaces, and remember to push from the middle of the foot and not the forefoot; pushing from the forefoot puts more strain on the arch and can make the problem worse, not better. It’s one of the great ironies of heel pain that if you push off from the heel it can lessen discomfort by reducing tension on the plantar fascia. If you still find the heel sensitive however, it may be best to stick with swimming and deep water running.

A Return to Running

You will need to be very careful about your return to this activity if you have experienced running heel pain. If you are under the care of doctor or podiatrist you will have to consult with them before lacing up again, otherwise, you will have to use your own discretion.  One of the most important decisions you will have to make concerns your foot wear. Here are a few things to keep in mind when slipping into a pair of sneakers to run:

Wear a Shoe Designed for Running: Actual running shoes were designed with raised heel as this helps to prevent plantar fasciitis, heel pain (heel spurs), and Achilles tendonitis. Make sure you are not mistakenly choosing a cross-trainer or tennis shoe.

Check the Bend of the Shoe: Contrary to popular belief running shoes should not bend in the middle of the shoe; they should bend at the ball of the foot. Be sure to perform this test before pulling out your wallet.

Try a New Running Shoe: When we walk or run we activate the windlass mechanism, which essentially means that the fascia tightens when the toes are bent back, causing the length of the foot to shorten and the length of the arch to increase. This mechanism tightens and relaxes as we move, creating a springy effect that allows our body’s to move efficiently and correctly absorb the impact of the foot striking the ground. This mechanism is paralyzed every time we put on a pair of shoes. Companies have started creating running shoes that are structured to maintain this function however, and these new shoes may be well worth investigating.

Add Heel Pads: The correct heel pads can both prevent Achilles tendonitis and reduce current discomfort if it is caused by lack of flexibility in the calf muscle. Care should also be taken to stretch the calves should this be the cause of running heel pain and foot discomfort.


As you can see, dealing with running heel pain takes time and patience but if you are passionate about this activity then it’s definitely possible to heal your discomfort and get back on track.

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