Tips for Athletes with Heel Pain

Dr. Robert Parker
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Dr. Parker is a podiatrist and surgeon in Houston, TX who has been helping patients for more than 40 years.

Here’s some advice you probably won’t be surprised to hear from a doctor: Exercise is good for you, and you should do it regularly.

Not exactly rocket science, right?

Unfortunately, many athletes, runners, dancers, and other active people are prevented from getting as much exercise as they’d like—not because they don’t want to be active, but because severe heel pain shuts them down prematurely.

We hear it from our patients all the time. Heel pain is keeping them off the trail, off the field—sometimes even preventing them from completing simple daily tasks without discomfort.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Read on for some great tips on how training athletes can prevent and manage heel pain.

Sprinter

Don’t Go Too Hard—At Least Not at First

Everybody starts somewhere. And while you’ll probably never play in the pros, virtually everybody has the potential to be fit, active, and healthy.

But you’re not going to get there in a day. And if you try to, you’re more likely to hurt yourself or quit out of discouragement than actually reach your goals.

If you’re a bit out of shape or are just beginning your training in a new sport—be honest here—and you find yourself experiencing a lot of heel pain, back off a bit. Scale back to a pace or duration that you can enjoy and engage without pain. Then, next week, go a little harder or longer.

When you pace yourself and give your body time to adjust slowly to new challenges, you’re more likely to be able to weather them without pain.

In the meantime, stay positive and motivated by setting small, measurable, achievable goals along the way. When you hit one, set another. Breaking big goals (e.g., “lose 50 pounds” or “complete my first marathon”) into a series of bite-sized smaller goals along the way helps you focus on the journey and gives you lots of little victories to celebrate.

Wear Sport-Specific Shoes

Casual athletes often don’t give too much consideration to the shoes they wear when they play. A decent percentage of Americans wear generic “athletic shoes” (tennis shoes, sneakers, etc.) as their casual everyday use, and will simply wear the same pair whether they’re going for a morning jog, playing a game of pickup basketball—or, say, going to the mall.

However, if you plan to play or train for a specific sport regularly, your everyday shoes aren’t going to cut it. In past blogs, we’ve talked a little bit about running shoes specifically for those training for a marathon, but the same general advice applies to athletes in other sports.

Basketball shoes, for example, tend to be heavier and have higher collars to provide a little more ankle protection and stability—crucial in a sport with a lot of jumping and pivoting. You definitely wouldn’t want to go for a five-mile run in your basketball shoes (too bulky)—just like you wouldn’t want to play competitive basketball in running shoes (not tough enough, high risk of ankle injury).

In other words, you need your shoes to help you manage the unique risks and stresses of whatever sport you happen to be playing.

Cross Train

Athletes who specialize in one particular sport or activity often are at higher risk of developing chronic overuse injuries. If your sport or activity involves a lot of running and jumping, heel pain is probably going to be high on that list.

One potential way around this problem is to cross train in different sports, exercises, or disciplines that work different parts of your body—and crucially, don’t put as much impact stress on your feet and joints as your primary sport.

If you’re a runner, you shouldn’t be running every day—more like 3-4 times per week. The same general advice goes for other high-impact sports or activities like basketball, tennis, football, or even certain types of dance.

On days when you aren’t practicing or playing your chosen sport, do something else to work on your endurance or other parts of your body. Strength training is a great option. So is going for a bike ride, or swimming laps at the pool.

You don’t have to stop being active, and you don’t have to quit playing your favorite sport. But you do have to be aware that overuse can cause injury and pain—and “mixing it up” on your “off” days can not only give your heels a chance to rest, but it can also benefit your athletic performance in your chosen sport as well.

Don’t Train Through the Pain

“You need to rest.” Is there any combination of four words that athletes hate hearing more than these?

We’ll let you in on a secret: active people aren’t always the most patient when it comes to treating or rehabbing their chronic injuries. And athletes also tend to have fairly high pain tolerances in general.

That combination means that many active people stubbornly stick to old routines as long as possible—even if their heels are howling at them in pain. And that’s a big problem, because continuing to overuse your heels will only make the pain worse, and increase your risk of developing an even greater injury.

If your heels hurt, you need rest and treatment, not more strain and pain. Take a break from your sport for a week or two, stretch regularly, and see if it gets better. Most of the time it will.

But what if it doesn’t get better, or keeps coming back? Or what if you simply don’t have the time to spare before the next big game, meet, or race? Proceed to the next step.

See Dr. Parker If It Won’t Go Away

At Parker Foot & Ankle, we specialize in relieving heel pain quickly so you can go back to living your best life, to the absolute fullest.

We love treating athletes of all ages and ability levels, and helping them return to peak performance!

Heel pain is a common symptom of several different conditions, and may in fact have multiple contributing etiologies—ligament inflammation, cellular degradation, pinched nerves, heel pad deterioration, etc. Underlying factors can including everything from athletic overuse to poor footwear to flat arches to poor diet.

In other words, the first point we’re trying to make here is that heel pain isn’t as simple as it looks. And if you want your heel pain treatment to work—the first time—it’s important that we take the time to correctly identify the causes.

The second point we need to make is that no one in the Houston area is better trained or equipped to relieve your foot pain than Dr. Parker and his team. We are “Houston’s high-tech podiatry” for a reason.

Sometimes, traditional treatment like rest, physical therapy, orthotics, and the like will be sufficient for your condition—and if this is your situation, we’re happy to provide them.

For those who need faster relief or who are struggling with chronic pain that just won’t go away, we can take things a step further with regenerative treatments.

These cutting-edge, “Star Wars” therapies (including laser, stem-cell-derived growth factors, extracorporeal pulse activation, etc.) have proven extremely effective for almost any type of chronic inflammatory pain. We have a great breakdown of how a typical regenerative therapy plan might look toward the end of last week’s blog. —be sure to check it out!

To book an appointment or request more information, please give us a call today at (281) 497-2850.

 

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