Exercise and the 3 main causes of heel pain.

8 May 2023

Heel pain is a common complaint among athletes and exercise enthusiasts. The pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and stress fractures. In this blog, we will explore these different causes of heel pain when exercising, as well as some tips for preventing and treating it.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar Fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain when exercising. It is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes. This inflammation can be caused by overuse, improper footwear, or your foot structure placing a natural excessive load on the heel area.

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include a sharp, stabbing pain in the heel that is usually worse in the morning or after long periods of sitting or standing. A dull ache may present during rest or straight after.  Treatment options for plantar fasciitis include rest, ice or heat, stretching, and physical therapy such as massage or shockwave. Wearing supportive shoes and orthotics can also help to prevent and treat this condition.

Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis is another common cause of heel pain when exercising. It is caused by inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. This inflammation can be caused by overuse, improper footwear, tight calf muscles, or a sudden increase in activity level.

Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include pain in the back of the heel, especially after exercise or activity. Swelling can occur making it difficult to load the heal to the ground.  Treatment options for Achilles tendonitis include rest, ice or heat, stretching, and physical therapy like shockwave therapy and massage. Wearing supportive shoes with a heel lift can help to prevent and treat this condition.  Orthotic therapy is recommended in conjunction with the above if the mechanics of the foot and leg are causing stiffness in the calf muscles.

Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the bone that can be caused by overuse or repetitive stress. They are a common cause of heel pain in athletes and runners with high loading, or the weekend warrior that may have landed incorrectly on the heel during exercise. Symptoms of stress fractures include sharp pain that increases with activity and decreases with rest, as well as swelling and tenderness in the affected area.

Treatment options for stress fractures include rest and immobilisation. In some cases, surgery may be necessary. It is important to see a Podiatrist if you suspect that you have a stress fracture, as continuing to exercise can cause further damage.

Preventing and Treating Heel Pain

The best way to prevent heel pain when exercising is to wear proper footwear and to gradually increase your activity level. If you do experience heel pain, it is important to rest and avoid activities that exacerbate the pain. Ice and over-the-counter pain medication can also help to relieve pain and inflammation; however this should only be a short term solution.  If pain continues a quick visit to the Podiatrist can prevent long term heel pain and get you back to your normal exercise regime faster.

Stretching and strengthening the muscles can help to prevent and treat heel pain as it improves flexibility. It is important to work with a Podiatrist to develop a stretching and exercise program that is tailored to your individual needs, as too much too soon can make things worse.  If you learn to strengthen your muscles properly, you will be able to exercise for longer and have a better chance at preventing further injuries.