Can I Still Run with Heel Pain?

Jun 25, 2020

Running is more than just a mode of exercise for many people. It can be a way to break free from long days at work, a mental and spiritual pick-me-up, an ambition to continually improve, or a lifestyle shared with friends and family.

It is a great activity in many ways, so it can be especially devastating when heel pain threatens to your ability to do effectively—or even at all!

Heel pain is very common in runners, and it is absolutely not something you should ignore or attempt to “push through” without giving it the proper attention. But while you may have to take a short break, it doesn’t mean you have to give up running forever, either.

We understand how important running is to so many of our patients, and always want them to reap the benefits of physical activity. Our approach to treating heel pain in runners will always keep this goal in mind, and we can work with you to determine a plan that will keep you moving while greatly reducing your discomfort (and your risk of recurring issues).

Pounding the Pavement

Running is a very repetitive activity, with your feet striking the ground consistently minute after minute, mile after mile. When the bones and tissues in our feet are subjected to more stress than they are conditioned to handle, it can cause strain or damage that results in heel pain.

As with other overuse injuries, heel pain is especially likely to occur if you don’t give yourself enough “rest days” to allow your feet to recover, or if you significantly increase your pace or mileage in a short period of time (more than 10-15 percent from week to week.)

Common heel pain conditions associated with running include:

  • Plantar fasciitis, aggravation and strain of the strong band of tissue that runs beneath the foot.
  • Achilles tendinitis, inflammation of the tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel bone.
  • Stress fractures, hairline cracks that form along the surface of weakened bones.

The rate and intensity of running itself often lends to these problems, but may not always be the only contributing factors. Abnormalities in foot structure, for example, can shift excess force to certain areas of the feet while running, increasing the risk of injury.

But whatever is going on, what can we do about it? And will you still be able to run with heel pain?

running with heel pain

Heel Pain Treatment and Changes

Pain is never “normal.” When it occurs, it is a sign that something needs to change.

For a runner, we must ensure we fully understand the condition and its causes before moving on to treatments and recommendations. This means not only conducting a full physical evaluation, but talking with you to determine additional factors surrounding the situation. We might ask questions like:

  • How long have you been running?
  • How often do you run each week, and for how long?
  • Does your pain flare up during running? After running? The next day? Or is it consistent?
  • Have you had any recent changes in your life (such as gaining or losing a significant amount of weight, or a change in the physical demands of your work)?

It can also be extremely helpful to bring an old pair of running shoes with you to your appointment. We can glean a wealth of information by studying the treads and general wear on them.

Once we have a solid understanding of the circumstances around the problem, we can recommend a comprehensive course of treatment. Potential treatments and changes might include one or more of the following:

  • Specific stretches and exercises to better condition certain areas.
  • Changes in your footwear.
  • Changes in the frequency and intensity of your running.
  • Incorporating cross-training and/or lower impact exercise into an overall routine.
  • The use of custom orthotics to shift excess forces away from troubled areas.
  • Shockwave therapy to promote pain relief and faster healing.

And yes, you may even need to greatly reduce your activity or be on full rest for a temporary period of time to allow your body to heal. While nobody enjoys hearing that, it is often part of the ideal way to return strong and greatly reduce your risks of reinjury or chronic problems.

So Can You Still Run with Heel Pain?

The answer to this question is that yes, you may still be able to run with heel pain—but there are some big qualifiers here.

If you are receiving the proper treatment for your heel pain, then running under certain conditions can be all right. But you must make certain you are following all the treatment instructions you are provided, and that you have been cleared to run.

Our ultimate goal is that you reach a point where you can run again with no pain whatsoever, and not have to worry about worse problems down the line. Investing in rest and time for treatment now might be frustrating, but the long-term results are usually worth it. Delaying care usually just means a longer and more difficult recovery later.

Let us help you get back to what you love as quickly and as safely as possible. Call our Milford office at (203) 876-7736, our Hamden office at (203) 288-4055, or fill out our online contact form to reach us. If you would prefer to have your first consultation with us remotely over video, we can gladly accommodate you via a telemedicine appointment.