Many things can slow down your times, but heel pain can definitely bring it to a stop. The most common form of heel pain in track & field athletes is known as plantar fasciitis (pronounced plan-tar fashee-eye-tiss). It occurs when the long, flat ligament on the bottom of the foot (plantar fascia) stretches irregularly and develops small tears that cause the ligament to become inflamed. The pain is described as being dull aching or sharp and can be reproduced by flexing the toes upwards (dorsiflexion) and tensing the fascia.
Although the fascia is invested with countless sturdy "cables" of connective tissue called collagen fibers, it is certainly not immune to injury. In fact, about 5 to 10 per cent of all athletic injuries are inflammations of the fascia, an incidence rate that would produce millions of cases of plantar fasciitis per year, just among runners and joggers. Track, field, tennis players, volleyball players, step-aerobics participants, and dancers are also prone to plantar problems, as are non-athletic people who spend a lot of time on their feet or suddenly become active after a long period of lethargy. A recent study found that over 50 per cent of people who suffer from plantar fasciitis are on their feet nearly all day.
Plantar fasciitis usually develops gradually. Heel pain may only occur when taking the first steps after getting out of bed or when taking the first steps after sitting for a long period of time. If the plantar fascia ligament is not rested, the inflammation and heel pain will get worse. Other conditions or aggravating factors, such as the repetitive stress of walking, standing, running, or jumping, will contribute to the inflammation and pain. In some cases, the inflamed ligament may not heal because many people who have plantar fasciitis do not completely stop the aggravating activity.
In athletes, a number of factors are associated with development of plantar fasciitis. These factors can lead the athlete to change his or her gait (the way the feet strike the ground), which can cause symptoms and injury. Risk factors for athletes include:
The traditional remedies for plantar fasciitis include stretching the calf, massaging, decreasing one's training, losing weight, purchasing better-fitting shoes (with a raised heel and arch support), icing the sore heel, and taking ibuprofen. Another treatment option, also known as one of the easiest, is using heel seats in your shoes. Heel seats pick up and re-stretch the plantar fascia, redistribute the heels natural fat pad, provide structural reinforcement to the foot, and apply acupressure to relieve the pain while your feet heal.
In any case, when you feel pain, your body is trying to warn you that something is wrong. See a doctor or specialist at the first sign of pain. Treating problems early is key to a healthy lifestyle.
Run The Planet thanks Jason Schultz for the permission to reprint the article “Track & Field runners and heel pain”. Jason Schultz is the author of plantar-fasciitis.org, and treatment specialist at www.heel-that-pain.com. Text © by Jason Schultz. Illustration © 2004 by Run The Planet.