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A Runner's Guide to Heel Pain Management

As an avid runner, you take pride in your active lifestyle. In fact, you relish the feeling of being out of breath as your heart pounds rapidly in your chest and struggles for oxygen. This is why there is no injury more crushing than a wound to the lower extremities. Heel pain, in particular, can seriously compromise a runner’s routine and completely sideline him. After all, how can you maintain a running regimen when even walking causes enormous discomfort? At the first sign of heel pain, the first priority should be to rest the heel and not make any motions that will exacerbate the injury.

Causes of Heel Pain

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common forms of injury and affects approximately 10% of runners. The condition occurs due to injury in the fibrous tissue surrounding the base of the heel. For runners, the injury is often the result of overtraining, wearing ill-fitting shoes, not properly stretching the calf muscles, running on hard surfaces or frequent uphill training. Those with flat or high-arched feet are also more prone to developing heel pain.

Can I Still Train?

As a speed and endurance athlete, you crave for the runner’s high every time you get on the tracks or treadmill. Having to put your training on hold due to injury can compromise your progress. The good news though, is that you can still train; you just have to change how and where you do it. Consider the following training modifications:

Land with a Mid-foot Strike – It’s natural for the heel to touch the floor before the rest of the foot during a stride. Adjust your gait so that the middle portion of your feet hits the ground first. This takes some of the impact away from the heels.

Let Gravity Help You – Engage in gravity by letting your upper body lead the way and having your legs follow. Lean your torso forward by slightly tilting your ankles. This will help your feet land directly under your center of mass.

Run on Flat Surfaces – Avoid hard surfaces, such as asphalt, concrete and stone pavement. Also refrain from running on uneven terrain and hills. Optimal running surfaces include flat dirt trails and soft turf made for running. As far as treadmills go, the backward motion of the belt causes the forefoot to make contact with the surface more quickly, thus requiring you to recruit more of your anterior shin muscles. This puts you at greater risk for developing shin splints.

Home Treatments for Acute Heel Pain

What you do at home determines how quickly you can get back to running without nagging pain compromising your progress. The following tricks can alleviate pain and speed the recovery process.

• Soak your feet in ice water every day for up to 10 minutes. There will be some initial pain when you dip your heel into the frigid water, but the discomfort will subside once your body adjusts.
• Exercise the heel by setting a towel on the floor and picking it up with your heel. Alternatively, you can also perform this exercise by picking up marbles or other small, round objects.
• Walk barefoot or in socks across a gravel surface. This will be uncomfortable on the soles of your feet, but it is a great exercise that targets and stimulates the plantar tendon.

Accessories and Footwear for Heel Pain

There are also orthotic accessories and footwear designed specifically for heel pain sufferers. Most are designed to reduce pressure on the fascia when walking, running or even when just standing. The following companies are the leading industries in developing tried and proven accessories and shoes for making regular range of movement more manageable.

Heel That Pain – This company was founded in 2001 and is best known for its patented Fascia-Bar technology, which is utilized in HTP’s line of products, including wraps, gel inserts, socks and splints. The accessories are designed to realign the fascia ligament back into its proper position while providing cushioning and acupressure to the heel and surrounding bone. This not only provides day-to-day relief but also accelerates the body’s natural ability to heal itself. HTP’s products typically have a satisfaction rate of over 90%, and some of the company’s notable clients include NBA stars Jason Kidd and John Starks.

Gravity Defyer – The name Gravity Defyer has graced hundreds of health and wellness magazines. The company’s footwear products are developed by Impact Research Technology and are best known for its patented VeroShock shock absorbing system. With the shoes’ mesh surface, durable rubber outsoles, ventilation system, shock absorbers, arch support insoles and Achilles guard heel counter, wearers feel like they are walking on air as there is virtually no impact from walking on hard surfaces. Gravity Defyer shoes are available in the form of athletic, casual, boots and open-toed footwear.

Heel Pain Store – This e-store carries footwear, bandage wraps and insoles for plantar fasciitis and heel spur sufferers. Its products are constructed partly from glycerin, which provides up to 15 times more impact absorption than normal footwear. In addition, the insoles also come with twin channels to give the plantar fascia a stretch and therapeutic massage. Heel Pain Store’s products can be divided into two categories: day and night treatment accessories. The former consists of normal-looking footwear for casual and regular wear while night time products come in the form of splints that can be worn to bed.

As a runner, there is nothing you want more than to stay on top of your game. However, you have to listen to your body, and when it’s signaling pain, you need to take care of your injury first and foremost before even thinking about getting back on the track.