Heel pain is a stubborn, unshakeable foe for far too many active people here in the Tampa Bay area. It’s a feeling that runners, walkers, hikers, triathletes, recreational basketball players, and so many other athletes of all ability levels know well.
Sure, you might feel fine today. But put in a couple of long runs or hikes, or get a few weeks into your rec league season, and you just know your heels are going to let you down again.
And when heel pain strikes—and won’t go away—it spills over into every other aspect of your daily life. You’re less likely to want to exercise or enjoy your active hobbies. Less likely to get through your regular chores or responsibilities. More likely to be miserable throughout your entire workday.
You get the idea.
Well, if you notice that heel pain tends to return or spike during or after periods of activity, did you know that it may well be the case that adjusting your activities or routines may allow you to maintain your current level of activity and fitness while sparing your heels the brunt of the pain?
It’s true. And cross-training may be a significant piece of the solution.
Before we get into that, though, let’s set up some context.
(Literal) Tons of Force
If you’re like most people, your heels are at the front of the line when it comes to walking and running. The heel is the first part of the foot that strikes the ground, taking the initial impact shock of each landing. Even at a slow jogging pace, that’s about 70 impacts per minute, per foot.
And it’s not just your own weight that your heels are contending with, either. The magnitude of that impact force can be 2-3 times your own body weight—and it’s all landing on a very small area for a very short period of time.
Add that all up—step after step, each one an impact equivalent to hundreds of pounds—and you are putting literal tons of force on your feet each day. Hundreds if not thousands of tons, in fact.
So perhaps it’s not so surprising that feet in general—and quite often heels specifically—tend to get painful, swollen, and sore for so many active individuals.
How Cross-Training Can Help
One thing you must understand is that, while your feet are incredible structures designed to withstand a lot of force and pressure, they still do need time to rest and recover. They can do amazing things, and exercise can make them stronger—if they get a break once in a while.
If they don’t, the result is gradual breakdown and chronic pain.
But “giving your heels a break” doesn’t have to mean “spend two days on the couch eating nachos.” This is where cross-training comes into play.
The core concept is that, if you are dealing with recurring heel pain, you probably shouldn’t be engaging in high-impact exercises every day. Activities that could fit into this category include running, hiking, dancing, basketball—basically any sport or activity that puts a lot of quick, downward pressure on the body due to running or jumping.
So instead of, say, going for medium or long-distance runs 6 days a week, you might dial that down to 3-4 times per week and substitute low impact exercises (both cardio and otherwise) on the “rest” days.
Some examples of exercises that may be appropriate include:
- Swimming. In addition to being one of the very best aerobic exercises in existence, swimming also places almost no stress on your feet (or even your joints in general).
- Elliptical. Although these machines do put some weight and pressure on the heels, it’s much less than walking (either on a treadmill or otherwise). If you find that the elliptical is still triggering some heel pain, skip it and try something else.
- Here’s another example of a great cardio workout with reduced stress on your feet, since you don’t have to put your full weight on the pedals. When it comes to low-impact exercise, riding a stationary bicycle is better than riding a real bicycle since you don’t have to worry about terrain, or your feet starting to hurt when you’re still several minutes (or more) from home. However, riding a real bicycle is still a much better option than going for a run.
- Using a rowing machine at the gym, or doing it for real in a kayak, are both great exercise options that are very easy on heels.
- Strength training. Regardless of whether you’re currently experiencing heel pain, you should build a certain amount of strength training (leg curls, bench press, push ups, etc.) into your exercise routine anyway. Strong muscles and joints are a critical part of overall physical health, and as a bonus will make you more resistant to future injuries.
- Stretching your feet can help ease the symptoms of heel pain, and also help your feet resist future injuries. Plantar stretches and calf stretches can be especially valuable for people with current or recurring heel pain.
- This is a great option that helps you improve stretch and flexibility, and can also provide mental relaxation.
Heel Pain Requires a Comprehensive Approach
While cross-training is an important concept for any physically active individual struggling with heel pain, it may not be sufficient on its own to alleviate the pain and prevent future issues.
Heel pain is complicated, with many possible diagnoses (plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, stress fractures, etc.) and an even wider variety of possible underlying causes (poor shoes, poor training habits, obesity, flat arches, and so much more).
One great first step you can take is downloading a copy of our eBook, Ending Heel Pain: A Guide to Understanding Its Causes and Treatments. This brief-yet-informative guide can serve as a vital resource for anyone seeking to understand, eliminate, and prevent heel pain (in all its forms) in their own lives.
One More Thing …
Do you know someone with a foot or ankle problem that we can help them with? We’d be deeply grateful if you’d consider referring them to us.
In addition to the warm feelings you get when helping others overcome their pain, you’ll also be entered into a raffle to win a pair of high-end Anodyne shoes and your own set of custom molded orthotics—an $800 value!
All you need to do to be eligible is refer someone, as long as that person begins treatment on or before October 31, 2019. Thanks for helping us spread the word!
And of course, if you’ve read this blog, and maybe even downloaded your copy of our eBook, and you’d like to schedule an appointment for yourself, please give Precision Foot and Ankle a call today at (727) 399-7167. Whatever is bothering your feet and ankles, we can help!