Running is a popular form of exercise, but it can sometimes cause heel pain. Often, heel pain from running is related to plantar fasciitis, structural concerns, or improper movement patterns.
It’s essential to quickly care for and treat heel pain to avoid further misalignments and complications.
Keep reading to learn about steps you can take to prevent heel pain from occurring and treatments you can use when it does.
Several factors may be in play when it comes to heel pain after running, though it can come from something as simple as overuse or reduced range of motion in your ankle.
Often, a few influences combine to cause pain, muscular imbalances, and other symptoms. You may have more risk for these issues if you have a higher weight or injuries that affect your alignment and movement patterns.
People who have fallen arches (flat feet) or very high arches are more prone to heel pain after running since these foot shapes may put excess strain on the plantar fascia.
The plantar fascia is the thick ligament that runs along the bottom of your foot. Pain, inflammation, and tearing of the plantar fascia is known as plantar fasciitis.
Other causes include conditions such as:
There are several ways you can treat heel pain on your own. Home treatments are more effective if you treat symptoms early, so care for symptoms as soon as they arise.
The following approaches can help reduce pain, stress, and inflammation.
Take a break
Give yourself a break and rest your feet during flare-ups. Take time off from running and any other activities that cause pain. Don’t resume them until your symptoms subside.
To relieve pain and increase flexibility, do gentle feet and calf stretching and strengthening exercises two to three times per day for at least 5 minutes each session.
Reduce inflammation with ice and NSAIDs
To reduce pain and inflammation, use an ice pack on your heels and surrounding areas for 20 minutes a few times per day.
You can also take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as:
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
- naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn)
Also consider natural pain relievers, such as:
- fish oil supplements
Acupuncture treatments and self-massage may bring relief, too.
Use heel pads or orthotic inserts
Use heel pads, wedges, or lifts in your shoes for added comfort. An over-the-counter or custom orthotic device can improve stability and correct muscle imbalances. It can also prevent your foot from moving too much or incorrectly.
Avoid going barefoot. This can increase stress and strain to your heels.
Try a removable walking cast or night splint
If you need to completely stay off your foot, you can use a removable walking cast for a few weeks to support your foot and ankle.
Night splints are also available. They stretch your foot and hold it in the correct position while you sleep.
Usually, you can treat heel pain with home treatments and preventive measures.
However, if your symptoms don’t improve within a few weeks, see your doctor or a physical therapist. They can diagnose the correct cause and recommend a treatment plan. This may include corticosteroid injections into the heel area to reduce inflammation and pain.
You may be referred to a foot and ankle surgeon, though the need for surgery isn’t common. They’ll determine the underlying source of your heel pain through an examination and X-ray or other imaging tests to decide the best course of action.
Call your doctor right away if you have any severe pain in your heel that limits your ability to walk or is accompanied by redness and swelling.
It’s important to continue with preventive measures even if you’re treating heel pain, since the underlying cause of your heel pain may continue. This helps ensure your symptoms don’t recur or worsen.
Change footstrike patterns
Pay attention to where your foot strikes when it first hits the ground while running. Most people run with a rearfoot strike pattern, which is thought to contribute to heel pain.
Consider changing to a midfoot or forefoot contact point to see whether this reduces the impact or eases any of your heel pain. This may not work for everyone, though. You may also find that you’re putting too much pressure on the insides or outsides of your feet.
Keep in mind that changing your strike pattern may cause you to put more stress on your knee or other parts of your foot, leading to additional strain.
Opt for different running surfaces
When possible, run on grass, dirt paths, or a synthetic track, and gradually incorporate hills into your routine. Avoid running on hard, flat surfaces, such as concrete or tile floors.
If you have no choice but to run on a hard surface, find a pair of shoes that will help absorb the shock.
Stretch before and after running
Do simple stretches to loosen up your feet, ankles, and calves twice a day, plus before and after you run. Some simple exercises to loosen up your muscles include:
Maintain a healthy weight
Having a higher weight may cause you to bear too much pressure on your lower body, especially your knees, ankles, and heels, when running.
Losing excess weight will help you feel lighter on your feet. Plus, you may be more balanced overall, which helps maintain healthy movement patterns.
Invest in a new pair of running shoes
Invest in a pair of shoes that support the structure of your feet and are made especially for running.
To put less stress on the plantar fascia, look for shoes that have good arch support and an elevated heel. You can also tape or strap your foot.
Ask a doctor or physical therapist for recommendations if you’re unsure of which to choose.
Listen to your body during and after your runs, and adjust your training schedule accordingly. Pay attention to your running patterns. Make any necessary changes, especially if you’re experiencing heel pain.
Ask a trainer or friend to watch your technique and point out any imbalances that could be contributing to heel pain. If this isn’t possible, make a video of yourself running to see if any abnormal movements are noticeable.
Always treat heel pain as soon as it occurs. Take a break from running until your symptoms subside. Talk to your doctor if you’re unable to treat heel pain on your own.