One of the most common physical problems that frequent runners experience is heel pain. With the repeated pounding and pressure on the structure of the foot during regular runs, it’s understandable that many runners will experience foot problems like heel pain at some point in time. When it comes to treating heel pain in runners, there are several factors that must be considered to make sure the right treatment is being used for the underlying problem.
Diagnosing Heel Pain in Runners
First, the source or the type of heel pain being experienced needs to be identified. A qualified podiatrist or foot specialist can perform a thorough physical examination and ask questions that will help target what’s causing your heel pain. During the examination, the following factors might be examined or assessed:
- Specifics about your running and / or training habits, including how often you run, the intensity, distance and duration of your runs, the types of surfaces you run on, recent changes to your training routine, etc.
- Is your heel pain limited to a small area or is it more pervasive?
- How intense is the heel pain you experience?
- What methods or actions seem to relieve your heel pain?
- Have you been treated previously for heel pain?
- What kind of footwear do you use when running?
- When do you experience heel pain? During a run, after a run, or at any time of day?
While plantar fasciitis is the most common cause for runners’ heel pain, there may be other, less obvious factors contributing to your heel pain, such as Achilles tendonitis, stress fractures and bursitis, or systemic illnesses like gout and rheumatoid arthritis. A complete physical exam will include a review of muscular, neurological and, biomechanical factors to identify where the source of your heel pain is originating from. Once your podiatrist has a complete picture of your running habits and pain profile, providing an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan will be much easier.
Treating Heel Pain in Runners
Developing an effective treatment plan for heel pain involves a two-pronged approach – managing the symptoms of the pain while also addressing the cause of the pain. Most heel pain treatment protocols will involve one or more of the following approaches:
- Rest – Your doctor may recommend taking a break from running and / or switching to other physical activities that put less stress on the heel
- Pain medications – Medications can include OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), prescription pain medications, cortisone or steroid injections depending on the severity of the pain
- Physical therapy – Physical therapy, including cross-training and stretching exercises, may be recommended to ease pain and help correct biomechanical issues
- Orthotics – Pre-made or custom orthotic inserts can help relieve heel pain caused by structural issues with the foot
- Footwear – Shoes that provide additional support or cushion to the heel when running may also be recommended
Are you an avid runner struggling with occasional or recurring heel pain? Don’t suffer through it! Make an appointment with us today for a thorough assessment and customized treatment plan for your heel pain.