"I have severe left heel pain especially after a 5-8 mile run. I am training for the Dipsea. Advice? Should I consider orthotics?"
Custom orthotics can certainly help to alleviate many forms of heel pain including the most common type which is plantar fasciitis. Custom orthotics in fact are one of the best ways to slow do pronation and decrease stress to the large ligament on the bottom of the heel called the plantar fascia. If you over-pronate and repeatedly tug on the plantar fascia as your arch height changes, you get inflammation of the plantar fascia... known as plantar fasciitis.
A long run can place a tremendous stress on the plantar fascia and the heel bone. Most people with plantar fascitis will have pain in the bottom of the heel on days following running. Usually the pain is worse with the first couple of steps when they get up out of bed. They can also get a sharp pain in the heel when they start walking after sitting at a desk for a while.
Custom orthotics are one of the best treatments for this type of running-related heel pain. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it is best to get custom orthotics and keep running. You must get an evaluation with a running focused podiatrist first.
The concern is that you might have something worse than plantar fasciitis. In this case, the runner reports heel pain that is "severe" following long runs. Plantar fasciitis would usually be worse (and more annoying) the day after a long run, but not necessarily severe. It would be important to get x-rays and take a look at the heel bone (calcaneus) to be certain that you are not at risk for stress fracture in the heel bone (calcaneal stress fracture).
It is also possible that there is a cyst in the heel bone that is causing the problem. In the simplest of terms, a calcaneal cyst is a hollow or fluid filled pocket that develops within the heel bone. When running, the walls of the cyst can flex slightly causing pain and inflammation in the heel bone itself. In some cases the heel bone can flex so much that it cracks or fractures. This is actually much worse than a calcaneal stress fracture.
With a quick set of x-rays and an exam by an experienced running podiatrist, heel pain can be effectively treated. With all of the conditions that effect the heel, the sooner the best treatment is chosen and starts, the faster you will finish your goal race, wether it is the Dipsea, the Vineman or the San Francisco Marathon.
Dr. Christopher Segler is an Award Winning Foot & Ankle Surgeon, 5-Time Ironman Finisher and a sports medicine podiatrist who makes house calls for busy runners, triathletes and active professionals in San Francisco, Marin, the East Bay and the Peninsula. If you have a question about running related heel pain, you can call him directly at (415) 308-0833. You can also learn more about custom running orthotics at AnkleCenter.com and DocOnTheRun.com.
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