The summer and fall present some wonderful opportunities for runners, but chances are that many of these athletes will experience some sort of foot or ankle pain that could lead to a potentially more serious problem.
Two common foot issues that runners experience include heel pain/plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis. And even though these conditions are all treatable, runners should not ignore any serious pain issues they experience when running or after they cross the finish line.
Heel Pain/ Plantar Fasciitis
Millions of runners will experience some sort of heel pain which is very common. Heel pain often is the first sign of an underlying condition known as plantar fasciitis.
The plantar fascia tissue stretches from the heel to the ball of the foot and it can become damaged or swollen. This pain is felt around the heel area and is usually present first thing in the morning or after the runner has been resting for some time. Running with plantar fasciitis is possible but it is important to stretch before you run so that the tissue becomes stretched resulting in less pain.
Another common condition for runners is Achilles tendonitis which is a pain that starts at the back of the heel and runs up into the calf muscle.
When running, the pain can be very sharp and stabbing, however a dull, aching pain will still be felt when the runner is resting. Much like plantar fasciitis, the pain is usually worse first thing in the morning or after resting for a long period of time. Runners who continue to run with tendonitis will have to cope with the heel pain which sometimes will lessen during the run. Severe pain also may occur when running uphill or walking on stairs.
Causes of Heel Pain and Tendonitis
I have found that poor footwear is the most common cause of heel pain and tendonitis. It is important to make sure that runners wear proper running shoes that provide good support. I recommend using orthotic insoles, and avoid using old and damaged sneakers which can lead to you not running in the correct stance.
Be sure to use a proper training plan, especially when running up hills or inclines which can cause additional stress and pain on the tendon and plantar fascia. Pay special attention to your running mechanics so that you’re not rolling your foot or ankle to one side when running. This can cause small tears in the foot muscles and tissues and can result in plantar fasciitis.
Treatment of Heel Pain and Tendonitis
The treatment for heel pain is rest, ice, stretching and support. I recommend taking a break for a few weeks to help in your recovery. If you decide to continue and run, take it easy and reduce the number of miles. Avoiding hills also is a good idea, especially with tendonitis. Icing your foot can help reduce any damage—usually 20 minutes of ice should be enough.
Stretching calf muscles is another way to help treat these two issues since these muscles are all attached to the foot and the heel. Start off slowly with some gentle stretching a few times a day to ease back into your routine. Some runners have used a night splint to keep the foot in position overnight which keeps the tendons and plantar fascia from contracting.
Once again, the key to injury prevention is to make sure that your running shoes support your foot correctly. Custom made orthotics will help your shoes fit and support your foot properly. My office at Bristol Hospital’s Center for Orthopedic and Spine Health will help correctly measure your feet, examine them for any underlying issues and recommend what you will need to keep you running for years to come.
Podiatrist Peter A. Bellezza, DPM, MS, is a member of the medical staff of the Bristol Health Medical Group and Bristol Health’s Center for Orthopedic and Spine Health.
Dr. Bellezza has a special interest in general podiatry, foot and ankle reconstruction, total ankle replacement, and sports medicine. He is accepting new patients and is located conveniently at offices in Bristol, New Britain, and Southington. To schedule an appointment, please call 860.585.3333 or visit bristolhospital.org. Dr. Bellezza also will be conducting free foot checks at the Bristol Health Medical Care Center Grand Opening event from approximately noon – 2 pm, Saturday, June 22, at the Bristol Health Medical Care Center, 15 Riverside Ave. No appointment is needed.