Why You Have Heel Pain From Running

I have never experienced heel pain from running because I am a forefoot runner, therefore heel pressures are low for me.

Heel pain from running may be caused by heel striking as landing with a heel strike during running may cause calcaneal nerve compression resulting in heel pain.

Heel Pain From Running

Why You Have Heel Pain From Running

At heel strike, heel pain occurs because plantar pressure and maximum forces are exceedingly high at the heel. In most cases, plantar fasciitis is usually the main cause of the heel pain, but when conservative interventions fail, experts believe compression of the calcaneal nerve could be the culprit.

In support of this, Henricson and Westlin (1984) investigated the effects of surgical decompression of the calcaneal nerve(s) on chronic heel pain in heel strike runners who competed at the top international or national level.

What Causes Heel Pain when Running?
Illustration from the study showing the location of the calcaneal nerve.

Pre-op, all runners complained of intense heel pain at heel strike during running and were incapable of training or competing because of the severity of the pain.

For the nerve decompression operation, calcaneal nerve branch(es) was dissected distally.

Post-op, most of the runners returned to normal without recurring heel pain.

Because compression of a calcaneal nerve branch causes chronic heel pain in heel strike runners, the researchers strongly recommended that surgical decompression of the entrapped nerve is the most sensible solution if heel pain responds poorly to conservative interventions. But really, who wants to get surgery? A much less invasive approach would be to avoid heel strike altogether when running, and land more forefooted.

How Forefoot Running Helps

Selective pressures reduces heel pressure via forefoot running. What I mean by this is nature needed a way to keep early humans from dying out due to running-related injuries –if they couldn’t run, they couldn’t catch food. Thus, our ancestors avoided high heel pressures via forefoot running to maintain the physical activity needed to obtain the resources to live –to run after food and protect themselves. They ran barefoot or in minimalist footwear which facilitated desirable footfalls that played a key role in both preventing and fostering resilience against common injuries suffered by runners today.

Runners are predisposed to injuries, especially plantar nerve compression, when we deviate away from the biomechanics and plantar conditions our ancestors needed for survival –those necessary for running barefoot or pure minimalist without injury.

More From Run Forefoot:

Trick to Proper Fueling Before a Race

Learn How to Run Forefoot

How Much is Too Much Strength Training for a Distance Runner?

Choosing the Correct Shoe for Forefoot Running

Help for Overweight Runners with Knee Pain

For even more forefoot running tips, you can always check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page if you have questions. I’m always happy to help ya!


Campell JW, Inman VT: Treatment of plantar fasciitis and calcaneal spurs with UC-BL shoe insert. Clin Orthop 103: 57-62, 1974.

Clancy WG: Runner’s injuries part two. Evaluation and treatment of specific injuries. Am J Sports Med 8: 287-289, 1980.

Furey JG: Plantar fasciitis. The painful heel syndrome. J Bone Joint Surg, 57A: 672-673, 1975.

Henricson AS and Westlin NE. Chronic calcaneal pain in athletes: entrapment of calcaneal nerve. Am J Sports Med, 1984; 12(2):152-154.

James SL, Bates TB, Osternic LR: Injuries to runners. Am J Sports Med 6: 40-50, 1978

Snider MP, Clancy WG, McBeath AA: Plantar fascia release for chronic plantar fasciitis in runners. Am J Sports Med 11: 215-219, 1983.


Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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