Earlier this week, I had a patient who had been struggling with heel pain and plantar fasciitis who was finally ready to start running again…
But we hit a major roadblock. Let me tell you the patient’s main concern:
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“I’d really love to start running again, but I’ve been struggling with this heel pain for so long and I really don’t want it to come back.
My pain has only been completely gone for the last week, so how do I know that running won’t just bring the pain right back?
Will I ever get back to running, or should I just be happy that my heel pain is gone and focus on other exercises?”
– Sarah, 47
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If you’ve ever experienced heel pain (whether due to plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis or other muscle and joint pains), you can probably totally understand Sarah’s concerns.
Once you’ve finally gotten some pain relief, which can take a lot of time and effort, the last thing you want is for it to come back…but at the same time, getting back to the activities you love is equally important.
So what’s the key to resuming walking, hiking and running without bringing the pain back?
Follow these simple pieces of advice that I told Sarah this week:
4 Simple Tips to Returning to Running
1. First Tip: Warm up and stretch before you run. After recovering from heel or ankle/foot pain, you likely have a handful of stretches you’ve learned that help you relieve tension on the involved structures. This will typically include things like calf stretches, soleus stretches, plantar fascia stretches, and maybe even some hip, knee and back stretches (and if you’re really lucky, you might even do some foam rolling!). Warming your muscles up slowly and stretching before you run will help you minimize the chance that these structures will experience any discomfort or pain.
2. Second Tip: Use proper footwear. While you may be able to get away with less supportive shoes during your day-to-day activities, choosing a shoe with added support is essential for returning to more demanding activities like running, hiking and taking long walks. If you’re like me, you might even enjoy going barefoot during the warmer months. But rest assured, I put on a pair of supportive shoes when I’m ready to go running!
3. Third Tip: Avoid pain when you’re running. This may seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised by how many people I come across who think it’s okay to “push through the pain.” Let me tell you a little secret: if you’re experiencing pain while you run or exercise, you’re doing real damage to your body. This idea applies to any region of your body during exercise. While feeling a little tight/stiff at first is pretty normal and can be relieved during your light warm up period, any type of sharp or sudden pain is a clear indication from your body that you need to either slow down or stop. To avoid pain while running, make sure you start slow, especially during the first 2-3 times you go running. After a brisk walk, if you’re still pain-free, try jogging for a few minutes at about 50% max speed. After jogging for 5-10 minutes, if you’re still feeling good, then you can ramp things up towards full speed.
4. Fourth Tip: Be realistic with your distances. If your ultimate goal is to return to running long distances of 5-10 miles or more, you shouldn’t expect to be able to run this full distance on your first time running again. While the starting distance will be different for each of us, try to be realistic with what your body can tolerate, especially when you’re first getting back to running. For most people, it’s a good idea to start with a mile or two and then gradually work up from there.
If you follow these 4 tips, you should be able to gradually return to running without experiencing a relapse in your heel pain.
Here are just a few more pieces of general advice when returning to exercising: make sure you drink plenty of water and are eating a nutrient-dense diet. I won’t go into too many specifics here, but proper hydration and nutrition are key to your success.
Lastly, a little soreness and stiffness the following day after returning to running is pretty normal. You should expect these symptoms to be very mild and to completely resolve within 24-48 hours.
This also points to one more important piece of the puzzle: you need adequate rest periods to allow your body to recover.
This is particularly true when you first return to running and exercising, so make sure to give yourself 1-2 days between sessions.
While you can probably eventually return to running 4-5 times/week, you want to pace yourself (pun intended!).
That’s all for now! Happy running!
P.S. If you have more questions about nagging heel pain, feel free to email your questions directly to me at Luke@GordonPhysicalTherapy.com. I’m happy to answer all your questions and arrange a free telephone consultation!
Here’s the video version of this blog post: