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What Every Cyclist Should Know About Heel Pain

Cycling is enjoying a moment in the US and abroad. Appealing to both beginners and experts alike, cycling not only offers a clean-energy alternative to driving a car. It’s also a terrific low-impact exercise.

Cycling is also one of the most popular exercises for active individuals who suffer from heel pain. A diagnosis of plantar fasciitis often means replacing high-impact sports and exercise routines with low-impact activities that place less strain and impact on the plantar fascia.

But before you pedal off into the sunset, make sure you know these facts about cycling and heel pain!

Cycling with Plantar Fasciitis

If you’ve been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis and have decided to take up cycling, you’re in good company! When done correctly, cycling places minimal strain on the heels, arches, and feet.

While it can be tempting to dive right into cycling, especially if you were previously engaged in higher-impact sports, keep in mind that cycling works different muscles in unique ways. Start slow, and work up to longer and more intense cycling workouts to avoid injury. If you wear orthotic inserts while walking, you’ll also want to wear them while cycling, since your heels and arches will still need support!

Preventing Heel Pain While Cycling

While cycling carries a low risk of causing heel pain, especially when compared to many other sports and forms of exercise, any activity that engages the feet, arches, and heels has the potential to cause plantar fasciitis. To prevent heel pain and plantar fasciitis while cycling, keep the following precautions in mind:

Bike fit matters: While it might seem like a bike is a bike, there are numerous sizes and styles. For road bikes with a straight bar, you’ll want to be able to straddle the bike with an inch between you and the bar. For mountain bikes with an angled bar, you’ll want two inches. Improper height and fit means additional strain and stress on leg, foot, and back muscles.

Use the right gear: If you wear bike cleats, make sure that they’re compatible with your pedals. If your cleats are positioned in such a way that your foot sits too far forward, you’ll be placing too much strain your heels and Achilles tendon. Too far back, and you won’t be able to propel the bike forward properly.

Ride with the proper technique: Riding in the proper position helps your body stay properly aligned and reduces your risk of injury. For road cyclists, the ideal position puts your body at a 45-degree angle with your arms bent at 90 degree angles.

Pedal properly: Your leg should never extend to a totally straight position while pedaling. If your leg is more than 80 or 90 percent straight during the downswing while pedaling, lower your bike seat.

Wear the right footwear: While cycling is a low-impact sport, it’s still important to wear properly fitting footwear that doesn’t pinch your toes or allow your heel to move around. If your footwear is ill-fitting or uncomfortable, it can be a distraction or cause you to place unnecessary pressure on your pedals.

Treating Heel Pain for Cyclists

If you notice pain in your heels while cycling, it’s important to address it quickly. Most cases of heel pain and plantar fasciitis can be resolved at home, with conservative treatment–especially when treated promptly.

At the first sign of heel pain, rest your feet and make sure you’re wearing proper footwear along with appropriate cycling gear, bike fit, and pedaling technique. You’ll also want to ensure that you are stretching properly before, after, and between rides. Stretching not only warms up muscles and ligaments but builds strength over time, which prevents many injuries.

Use ice to reduce pain and inflammation, take non-steroidal anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen as needed, and give your sore heels extra support and cushioning with orthotic inserts throughout the day while your feet heal.

With a little preparation and knowledge, cycling can become an enjoyable lifetime activity that takes the strain off your arches while keeping you healthy and active!

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Originally published August 21, 2015. Updated December 27, 2017.

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