If you are like most runners, you probably do not think twice about where and how you are placing your feet when you run. But take some time to stop and think about what you are doing! Incorrect form can lead to a variety of complications which may ultimately spell the end of your running excursions. The good news is that you can prevent heel pain from running by simply taking steps to correct your form.
What Causes Heel Pain from Running?
When you think about how to prevent heel pain from running, you need to first consider the way you place your feet on the ground. Incorrect form can cause you to over-stride so that your feet land too far ahead of you, a situation known as heel striking. Heel striking can place added stress on your heel and foot, resulting in ultimate knee and foot injury.
The most common result of heel striking – the root cause of heel pain from running – is an infection in the plantar fascia, a band of tissue found between the heel and the base of your toes. This condition is known as plantar fasciitis.
Heel pain from running is also caused by heel spurs, or an abnormal growth of the bones caused by the plantar fascia exerting pressure on the heel long enough to disrupt its normal growth.
Symptoms ofHeel Pain from Running
In his book, “Galloway’s Book on Running” runner-turned-chiropodist Jeff Galloway describes the symptoms that can help identify heel pain from running. This pain typically sets in before you get out of bed in the morning, and tends to subside as the day progresses.
You may observe a slight swelling or inflammation around the fascia which can turn out to be a source of intense pain.
Jeff Galloway advises that if you experience these symptoms, you should consult a doctor as soon as possible. If left untreated, this heel pain can become permanent and can seriously limit the kind of exercises you will be able to do in the future.
Melissa Bronstein, physical therapist and educator, further explains that a variety of other factors, including exhaustion, can cause heel pain, so it is better to get a professional opinion instead of attempting to treat it on your own.
How to Prevent Heel Painfrom Running
Chi running expert Danny Dreyer shares his tips:
- Give your plantar fascia a good stretch before and after your run. This helps to stretch the tight muscles in your foot to reduce the chance of heel pain while running. Sit down in a chair placing your heel over your knee. Pull your toes towards yourself, and feel the bottom of your foot stretch. Hold for 10 seconds and then repeat on the other foot.
- Don’t over-stride. Always make it a point to keep your feet behind your body. Feet landing in front of you not only slow down your movement; it also exerts extra pressure on your heel.
- Ensure that your feet remain under your hips. Keep your feet and legs under your hips as you run. Imagine that you are riding a bike and mimic the pedaling motion with your feet. Try to keep your feet first underneath and then behind you.
- When you land, try to land on your mid-foot. When you land, try to land on the middle of your foot and roll to your toes. This helps to absorb shock as you run while minimizing the pressure on your heel.
- Watch your cadence. A higher cadence, or a higher number of times your foot strikes the floor, translates into lower impact on your heel. Try to maintain a cadence of around 90 strikes per minute. To monitor your cadence, carefully count the number of times your right foot hits the ground in 30 seconds and multiply this number by two. If you find that the cadence is significantly lower than 90, take smaller steps.
- Run barefoot when running on soft surfaces. If you are running on a sandy beach or on grass, try to run barefoot. Dreyer explains that this an automatic form-corrector: your feet will not allow you to land on your heels since that would cause too much impact on your heels. Keep doing this drill one to three times a week for good practice for when you put your shoes back on. However, he advises never to attempt this when running on hard surfaces.
- Monitor how you are doing. Ask someone to videotape you as you run. Run at a normal relaxed pace and then watch the video in slow motion. Pay close attention to how you place your feet as you run. If you notice that your heel comes into contact with the ground first, this means that you are heel striking. Consciously pay attention to the way you are running and eventually you will learn to correct yourself.
- Wear the correct shoes. Slippers, heels and flip-flops are completely off-limits when it comes to running. Pick out a pair of sneakers and try them on first. Look at the “heel cup” or cushioned area around the heel on the inside. Test the shoes out by stomping your feet hard: there should be enough padding to cushion your heel.
- Make sure that the arch and toe area are stiff. Shoes that provide these parts of your foot with more support take the burden away from your heels. Buy running shoes only from reputable brands, and make sure you ask the store assistant specifically for “shoes for running”.
What If You Already Suffer From Heel Pain?
As a temporary solution, soak your feet in hot water or apply a cold compress to ease the pain and swelling. However, discuss prolonged and recurring heel pain with your doctor and follow his or her instructions to the letter.
Follow correct procedure and stay safe! Happy running