Recently, I’ve been running to cope with the slew of tragic news in the world. Even though that’s helped my stress levels post-work, it leaves me with sore heels in the morning caused by plantar fasciitis. For those unfamiliar with the condition, “there’s a rubber band-like structure on the bottom of our feet that attaches our heel bone to the front of our foot, and it’s called the plantar fascia,” says Brad Schaeffer, DPM, podiatrist, board-certified foot surgeon, and star of TLC’s My Feet Are Killing Me. “When this rubber band or plantar fascia becomes too tight, it becomes inflamed and causes pain.”
Like shin splints, plantar fasciitis is a common overuse injury, especially amongst people trying a new sport or getting back into physical activity after being sedentary. But there are other causes of chronic heel pain to consider aside from pushing yourself too far too fast. For example, if your plantar fascia flares up when you start running, it can be due to the heel cord not being stretched or the plantar fascia not being supported properly. “Inflammation of the heel can be caused by wearing ill-fitted shoes or improper inserts, and the way that we walk, or our gait cycle, can also cause flare-ups,” says Dr. Schaeffer.
Additionally, this inflammation can develop from small micro-tears in the plantar fascia if it’s too tight when we extend it and step on it (which is what you do when you walk), he says. When this happens, that’s when heel pain increases. It’s also common for plantar fasciitis to be worse in the mornings and in the winter, according to the Mayo Clinic, because sleep and cold air support shrink the plantar fascia.
How to address heel pain when you start a new physical activity
New stresses on the body are bound to cause a bit of discomfort until it adapts. Dr. Schaeffer says he gets asked a lot about “pushing through” discomfort, especially by patients who are starting new physical activities. He emphasizes that there’s a difference between discomfort and pain. Injuries are often damaging to a certain area of the body; when you continue through that pain, your body can often overcompensate by shifting its posture or distribution of weight, he explains. For instance, overcompensating in your gait for one injury could harm somewhere like your knees or hips over time. You don’t want to push yourself so hard that you become more injured and have to stay away from your sport for longer than if you had stopped at the earlier signs of pain, Dr. Schaeffer adds.
Additionally, your body needs time to heal. (Pun intended, sorry). When it comes to plantar fasciitis, your heel needs a break from whatever is causing the pain, Dr. Schaeffer explains. So incorporating some stretches into your morning before you get out of bed, acquiring the best shoes for your feet, and listening to your pain are all great ways to prevent further injury and promote healing. You should also consider what else may be contributing to your heel pain other than your new activity to make sure you’re not missing other culprits that could be contributing or causing your heel pain.
Sometimes it’s not always your new sport that’s causing plantar fasciitis
When you start to experience pain, it’s important to think of a whole host of new things you’ve started doing. For instance, in talking with my own doctor about my symptoms, I realized that I’d recently started wearing new shoes during the day around the same time I started running. These shoes are super flat and stylish, but they don’t offer much support. What I thought was a running injury was really a, well, fashion injury. As soon as I took the stylish shoes out of the equation, my heels got a lot better.
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