How to Treat Heel Pain After Running

How to Treat Heel Pain After Running

Are you experiencing discomfort in your heels after a run? Do your heels hurt after running? Heel pain is a common issue among runners. Whether you're an avid runner or just starting, heel pain can be frustrating and debilitating. 

This blog post will discuss why you have a sore heel after running and provide effective treatments to alleviate and prevent them.

What Causes Heel Pain After Running

Heel pain after running is often caused by overuse injuries resulting from repetitive impact on the heel and ankle. Common causes include:

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, the thick band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. It is the most common cause of heel pain after running. 

This inflammation causes stabbing pain under your heel that is usually worse first thing in the morning. It often develops due to overpronation, high arches, tight calf muscles, or worn shoes. The pain usually subsides with rest but returns after long runs or standing.

Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Pain from Achilles tendinitis is felt as a stabbing pain above the back of the heel that worsens with activity. It’s often caused by increasing mileage too quickly, improper stretching, overpronation, and worn shoes

Stress Fractures

Stress fractures are tiny cracks in the heel bone caused by repetitive impact. Stress fractures cause pain in the heel that worsens while running and improves with rest. Risk factors include increasing mileage too rapidly, hard-running surfaces, worn shoes, and improper form.


Bursitis is inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs (bursae) that cushion bones, tendons, and muscles near joints. Bursitis in the heel causes pain and swelling on the back of the heel. It’s often caused by direct impact, tight shoes, or excessive uphill or downhill running.

How to Treat Sore Heels after Running

Rest and Ice

As a runner, you must rest. Giving your feet a break from running and icing the sore heel can help reduce inflammation and pain. Rest your feet for a few days, and ice the heel for 15-20 minutes several times daily. Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel so it's not directly on your skin.


Stretching exercises can help alleviate heel pain by targeting the plantar fascia and calf muscles. Perform exercises like the towel, calf, and standing wall stretch regularly to improve flexibility and reduce tension in the affected area. These exercises should be done gently and without causing any pain. Stop immediately if you feel any discomfort.

Footwear and Arch Support

Wearing appropriate footwear and providing sufficient arch support can significantly aid in treating heel pain. Look for running shoes that have cushioning and good arch support to reduce the impact on your heels. If necessary, consult a podiatrist to get custom orthotic inserts that provide additional arch support and alignment.

Night Splints

Night splints are devices that hold the foot in a neutral position while you sleep, preventing the plantar fascia from tightening overnight. Wearing a night splint can be particularly beneficial for plantar fasciitis treatment, as it helps stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon while you sleep, reducing pain and stiffness in the mornings.

When do I See a Doctor to Treat Heel Pain?

If the above treatment doesn't relieve your heel pain after several weeks, it's important to see a doctor. Ignoring ongoing heel pain can lead to chronic injuries or conditions. See a doctor right away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden, acute heel pain, especially if accompanied by bruising or inability to bear weight
  • Numbness or tingling in the heel
  • Redness, warmth, or swelling in the heel area
  • Limping or altered gait

These can be signs of a serious injury, like a stress fracture, that requires prompt medical attention.

Your doctor will examine your heel, review your symptoms, and likely order imaging tests like X-rays or an MRI. This helps determine the underlying cause of your heel pain.

Common treatments doctors may recommend for you include:

Custom orthotics: Custom shoe inserts help correct biomechanical imbalances or abnormalities that contribute to heel pain.

Physical therapy Specific stretches, exercises, massage, and modalities like ultrasound can reduce inflammation and pain. PT helps restore mobility and strength.

Medications Anti-inflammatory drugs and steroid injections can temporarily relieve pain and inflammation.

Surgery: If conservative treatments fail and you have a confirmed diagnosis like plantar fasciitis or a bone spur, surgery may be considered. This involves removing damaged tissue or bone fragments that are irritating the heel.

Follow your doctor's treatment plan diligently. Surgery and invasive treatments are usually the last resort after trying therapy, orthotics, medication, rest, ice, and activity modification. Be patient, as healing can take weeks or months. Inform your doctor if the pain persists or worsens.

How to Prevent Heel Pain after Running

Preventing heel pain after running starts with being proactive and taking steps to reduce injury risk. The most important preventative measures include:

Proper Footwear 

Wearing appropriate running shoes that fit well and offer adequate cushioning and support is crucial. Replace your shoes regularly, about every 300–500 miles. Visit a specialty running store and have your gait analyzed to find the right shoe type and features for your foot type, biomechanics, and running style. 

Gradually Increase Mileage

When beginning a running program or ramping up mileage, increase gradually, no more than 10% per week. This gives your body adequate time to adapt to the increased load and impact on the heels and feet. Suddenly, large mileage increases are a common cause of overuse heel injuries.


Incorporate low-impact cross-training like swimming, cycling, or using the elliptical into your routine. This allows you to build fitness while giving your heels and feet a break from the constant pounding of running. Mix up hard-running days with easier cross-training days.

Strengthening Exercises

Perform regular calf, foot, and ankle strengthening exercises to improve stability and prevent injury. Exercises like toe raises, alphabet drawing with toes, picking up marbles with toes, and using resistance bands can make a big difference. Rolling a tennis ball under the foot is also helpful.

Taking a proactive, gradual approach to running with proper footwear, cross-training, and targeted foot strengthening goes a long way toward preventing problematic heel pain. Being attentive to pain early and adjusting your program at the first signs of injury can help avoid more severe and lasting damage. With smart training and preparation, you can continue running pain-free.


Heel pain after running can be frustrating, but it is manageable and preventable. By understanding the causes of heel pain and employing targeted treatments, you can alleviate pain, promote healing, and prevent future occurrences. Remember to consult your doctor if the pain persists or worsens. With the right care and attention, you can get back on track to enjoying pain-free runs and reaching your fitness goals.