Many runners will be all too familiar with the gruelling training plans that prepare you for the race ahead, whether it’s to get a PB or simply reach the finish line! Everyone has different, but equally important goals, which often results in developing injuries in the run up (excuse the pun) to the race. We’ve put together a guide of recognising, treating and maintaining recovery from two of the most common injuries that affect the heel; plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendinitis. These injuries can prove detrimental to your race preparation, as well as affecting your day-to-day activities that involve moving around on your feet.
There are various symptoms of plantar fasciitis, but the truth of the matter is that if you are suffering from this injury, you are likely to know about it. That said, it can be misleading, occurring mostly after long periods of non-use. If you have adapted a sort of morning hobble after your foot has tried, and failed, to fix itself overnight then you have probably been struck by the plantar. The pain tends to fade during a run once the area is warmed up, giving you false hope of a miraculous recovery, but spoiler alert, this is in fact highly unlikely.
The most common sufferers of plantar fasciitis heel pain are over-trainers, stretch-neglecters and hill and speed enthusiasts, a minority who apparently do exist. The condition can also be caused by genetically flawed feet that are flat with high arches and a tight Achilles tendon, sudden increases in mileage, worn out running shoes and constantly training on hard surfaces.
As with many injuries, prevention is better than cure. You can avoid contracting this injury by:
- Running on softer surfaces
- Not increasing your mileage by more than 10% per week
- Wearing appropriate footwear
- Diversifying training exercises
Yours sincerely, Captain Hindsight. By taking these small yet efficient steps, you minimise your chances of developing an injury that could prove to decrease your chances of getting a good time or even finishing in extreme cases. If you are particularly prone to heel-related horrors, some running shoe retailers market trainers specifically designed to minimise the development of plantar fasciitis. Regular stretching of the area will also lesson the likelihood of injury.
In terms of treatment, the first step should be massage, either by rolling a golf ball under your foot or maybe convincing a loved one that rubbing your foot is a great way to spend a Saturday night. You should also apply ice to the area as soon as you can. Arch support is key in the early stages of plantar fasciitis, so investing in highly supported shoes could be well worth your while so as not to delay recovery. If pain persists for more than three weeks, we recommend seeing a specialist who offers treatments such as foot taping, night splints and anti-inflammatories which should relieve symptoms within six weeks.
This injury concerns the large tendon connecting two of the main calf muscles – the gastrocnemius and the soleus – to the back of the heel bone. When under too much stress, the tendon tightens and becomes inflamed through working too hard. The symptoms can usually be recognised by a dull or sharp pain along the tendon, most commonly close to the heel. Other signs you may be suffering is a lump on the tendon, a cracking sound when moving the ankle, limited flexibility and redness or heat over the painful area.
The causes of Achilles tendinitis can often be credited to not stretching the calves properly, increasing mileage or overtraining. Again, those who swear by hills and speed work are more likely to suffer the consequences of the increased stress on the Achilles. If your reading this thinking that your hours of slogging up steep hills at a tortoise’s pace or sprinting to the next telegraph pole are over, then think again. Diversifying your training exercises is vital to succeeding, and whilst excessive hill and speed sessions are not advisable, sessions in moderation will help to build up your fitness considerably, without the danger of developing injury. Inflexible running shoes can also play a major role in causing the Achilles to twist and runners who rotate their feet too far inward upon impact are most vulnerable to the injury.
Although absolute prevention cannot be guaranteed, there are steps that can be taken to minimise the likelihood of being struck by the cruel mistress that is Achilles tendinitis. Correctly stretching before undertaking physical activity could be the difference between smashing a PB and hobbling off the course at mile three. Flexible running shoes are a must, and look at making changes to your running technique, perhaps with the help of a professional should your penguin-esque, flat footed technique lead to complications. Should the running gods inflict the dreaded Achilles tendinitis, the most important step to take in terms of prevention is to stop running at the first twinge of pain.
To treat the pain caused by Achilles tendinitis, take aspirin or ibuprofen until the injury subsides, and ice the area for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. If this is difficult to fit in to your day to day routine, check out our extensive range of cooling bandages that are perfect for Achilles tendinitis pain relief. The bandages will continue to cool the area for up to two hours once removed, making it easier to continue as normal, despite your injury. Once the pain has subsided completely, stretch the calf muscles and do not start any form of exercise until you can do toe raises without experiencing pain. Move on gradually, with skipping ropes and jumping jacks before hitting the open road, or other varied terrain, when you are fully recovered. Embarking upon other low impact sports that will improve your fitness without affecting your Achilles are swimming and cycling.
In summary, an injury to the foot in running can be devastating for athletes of all levels, but as long as the correctly identifying, prevention and treatment techniques are used, there’s no reason for injuries to be long-term. Listening to your body is key to avoiding injury; if you feel a twinge, be prepared to make changes to your schedule. Being flexible with your program is vital to success and could be the difference between a race you’ll never forget and a race you’ll want to forget.