Heel pain, medically termed plantar fasciitis, is a common and frustrating injury for many runners. It accounts for up to 10% of all running injuries and results from overstressing the band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, you probably experience sharp pain in your heel not only after running, but also with the first steps in the morning or after long periods of sitting or being on your feet.
• The most common causes of plantar fasciitis in runners include:
• Sudden increases in mileage or training intensity
• Wearing running shoes that do not provide enough support or shock absorption.
• Running on inconsistent surfaces
• Tight hamstring and calf muscles
• High or low arches
If you are an avid runner, the last thing that you want to hear from the doctor is “stop running.” However, running through heel pain often lengthens the recovery time and usually makes the condition worse. Studies show that you need to address the problem immediately, as the longer you wait to treat plantar fasciitis, the harder it is to resolve.
The good news is that you may not have to completely stop running or exercising to treat your heel pain. Many people can adopt a program that sports medicine doctors call “relative rest.” This means cross training and reducing your running mileage to the point where you do not feel pain when you run. A good idea for cross training is to try swimming or running in a pool to maintain fitness but reduce the amount of stress put on your feet. Biking is another good option. When you run, you can reduce the stress on your feet by alternating between running and walking. You can increase your mileage slowly over time, but stop running at any time if you feel pain in your heel.
In addition to “relative rest,” you need to take special care of your feet at home to treat plantar fasciitis. If you take care of yourself, the pain will usually go away. The May 2004 New England Journal of Medicine reported that plantar fasciitis symptoms will resolve in more than 80 percent of people within 12 months. It recommends that doctors treat plantar fasciitis patients with “patient-directed, low-risk, minimal-cost interventions” such as stretching and using arch supports.
“The first steps to relieving heel pain can be as simple as stretching your foot before getting out of bed in the morning, icing your foot regularly and wearing proper footwear,” says Jeffrey S. Peterson, M.A., M.D, Northern California Institute of Sports Medicine and advisor to Heeling Solutions, a company dedicated to helping people resolve heel pain. “Many people also require additional steps such as using orthotics in their shoes or wearing a supportive foot device at night called a night splint.”
How do you know if you have plantar fasciitis? Only a licensed medical professional can confirm your diagnosis. Seek out a practitioner who specializes in conditions of the foot and ankle, such as a podiatrist or orthopedist. You can also check out www.heelingsolutions.com for more information. The company sells a video that has a special section for runners and comprehensive information about the condition and recommended treatments.