Perth Podiatrist FAQ: How to Avoid Heel Pain at the Gym
November 08, 2017
Has it happened to you yet? You’ve been told to stop exercising because of your sore heel or suspected plantar fasciitis. Don’t worry – this diagnosis by your Perth Podiatrist, Specialist Podiatric Surgeon or even your Orthopaedic Surgeon doesn’t need to be the end of your fitness regime. There is no need to avoid heel pain by skipping the gym. But you do need to modify your gym routine so you’re not aggravating strained and damaged foot and leg structures!
Our Perth Podiatrist has One Golden Rule when he’s Following a Gym Program – Don’t Skip Leg Day!
Disclaimer: If you’re suffering from heel pain or plantar fasciitis and haven’t had it expertly examined by a Perth Podiatrist then you’re risking your recovery. Don’t take the advice in this Perth Podiatry Blog over the advice of your Perth Podiatrist, General Practitioner, or any health care professional who is actually aware of your specific situation. The exercises detailed in this blog will specifically target the most commonly irritated muscles and supporting structures in your feet and legs. That’s why we’re telling you to avoid them. If you have some other weird or wonderful cause for your heel pain such as a pinched foot nerve, a foot stress fracture, or total foot fracture – avoiding these exercises definitely won’t hurt but may not help treat your condition fully either. The advice in this blog is general in nature, but for specific advice tailored for you, well that’s best left to a Perth Podiatrist. Lucky for you Foot and Leg Podiatry Clinics are conveniently located in Perth so call or make a web enquiry today to get your heel pain or plantar fasciitis pain resolved faster.
The 4 Major Causes for Heel Pain
If you’re suffering from heel pain there are 4 major causes. Let’s take a moment to recap a few major anatomical structures that could be damaged so you know why I’m telling you to avoid the specific gym exercises:
Believed to be commonly injured and the most common reason for a visit to our Perth Podiatry Clinics your plantar fasciitis means there’s potential damage (specifically inflammation) to your plantar fascia. Just standing puts pressure on this strong ligament that extends from your toes to your heel – but we can’t stop you from standing!
Strained Foot Muscles
Did you know that beneath your plantar fascia you have 3 whole layers of foot muscles? Our Perth Podiatrist sees strained foot muscles literally every day and can help patients recover from this type of foot injury. Knowing which muscles are strained takes a professional – which is why consulting our team at Foot & Leg Podiatry is a great way to begin your treatment journey. Lots of these foot muscles attach into your heel and just like the plantar fascia – they’re worked most when you’re standing, moving or heaven forbid exercising in the gym!
Heel pain can occur at the back of your heel too, however your Achilles tendon attachment is very strong so more commonly this type of heel pain presents just above the back of your heel where your Achilles tendon is a little – let’s just say ‘weaker’. You don’t use your Achilles tendon that much when you’re standing but you do use your calf muscles that are connected through it to your heel for the most part. So yes again standing, moving etc is out if you have this debilitating heel condition. Don’t fret we can work around this.
Your lateral ankle ligaments are commonly damaged when you sprain your ankle and are super important for maintaining correct foot posture when you’re standing. They also protect you from re-spraining your ankle. They do this with special stretch detecting nerves that tell your lateral calf muscles to fire and protectively ‘lock’ your ankle. If these nerves are damaged then this protective loop won’t work and you’re likely to do more damage when you sprain it during exercise in the future. Always get your ankle sprains checked out – they cause more long term foot damage than most Perth Podiatrists believe.
What Leg Exercises Should I Avoid & What Leg Exercises Should I Try Instead?
I’m glad you asked – all of the above structures support your legs when you’re standing up, so most of these exercises are ones that involve standing up or putting excessive strain through your leg muscles. Remember that anatomically ‘leg’ refers to the knee down portion of your lower limb. So don’t dismay – you can still have a leg day and the associated DOMS that some of us grow to love so much.
Watch our Perth Podiatrist Video on Avoiding Heel Pain at the Gym.
Our brief video demonstrates the all of the below exercises and is accompanied by the perfect background music for your gym workout. Click on the link below to open the video in YouTube:
I’m actually a huge fan of a well done squat – I love the amazing strength increases through the core (oddly enough) that you can gain from doing this exercise right. BUT it puts a lot of stress on your feet, legs, thighs and knees – I’ve personally damaged my medial collateral ligaments through going too heavy too fast and too deep with my squats. I recovered super quickly from my knee injury because I picked it up quickly (MRI on the day) and I know what to avoid and how to modulate my exercise routine to recover and stay fit. Not everyone’s a Perth Podiatrist who knows their way around the lower limb’s anatomy and frequents the gym, so play it safe and see someone who does. Thinking about it – I’ve also damaged my lower back in the past from squatting too much weight (250kgs) so avoid this exercise when you’re injured to begin with… and when you do re-start it – go SUPER light weight to re-build your core over 3 – 6 – 12 weeks depending on your recovery progress.
Try the Leg Extension Machine Instead
This seated leg exercise specifically targets your quadriceps like none other. All whilst allowing your plantar fasciitis, Achillies tendonitis, foot muscles, and potentially sprained ankle to rest. Don’t worry if you load this machine up and push for 20 reps you’ll discover a whole next level of pain – just not in your heels – hooray!
45 Degree Incline Press: AVOID
This exercise loads up your whole lower limb which is fantastic….when your not experiencing heel pain. Avoid this one when you’re in pain and be very cautious when you return to the gym to increase your weights back to your ‘normal’ over a good 3-6-12 week period depending on the degree of your injury and your recovery progress. Talk to your Perth Podiatrist about your experience at the gym and together work out a plan of attack. Involving your gyms personal trainer is also a great way to keep up your fitness while you recover from heel pain.
Try the Hamstring Curl Machine Instead
Unless you have achilles tendonitis, then try a different exercise listed somewhere below. The reason for this is your whole posterior chain muscle group will be working hard with the hamstring curl exercise so it could exacerbate your heel pain of the achilles tendonitis variety. It could technically flare up the others too but I don’t want to tell you to skimp on hamstrings – test out this exercise with a super light weight and if your heel pain get’s worse – discontinue!
Standing Deadlift (including variations): AVOID
I don’t want the deadlift to be bad for your heel pain because I love the ease and significant lower back pump this exercise provides when the bars loaded, but it is – sorry! Your hamstrings take the immense strain when this exercise is done correctly so if you have Achilles tendonitis you’re just asking it to tear. You’re less likely to tear your plantar fascia but you’ll definitely be engaging your strained foot muscles and putting a lot of strain through your foot so take a break with this one.
Try the Back Extension Machine Instead
I actually find this exercise more beneficial for my lower back and it takes a lot of the pressure away from your feet and heels since your lower limb isn’t fully weight bearing for the exercise. It does have the potential to put pressure on your Achilles tendonitis depending on where the ankle grip is on your Roman chair, so test the waters and if pain occurs – discontinue!
Standing or Seated Calf Raise : ARE YOU CRAZY – AVOID!
Are you crazy!? Did I not just discuss the injured structures… and you think it’s ok to work them harder – Don’t tempt fate by pushing your calf and foot muscles insanely hard with this exercise when you’re experiencing heel pain. In saying this there is some evidence that supports the calf raise for Achilles tendonitis so if your Perth Podiatrist or Perth Physio recommends you trial it then don’t slap them in the face… too quickly.
Try the Standing or Lying Leg ABDuction Instead
Technically the standing variation does put a bit of stress through your foot since you’re effectively standing on one leg, so potentially not a good idea for ankle sprain patients, but if you start out with a light weight then at least it’s working a muscle that’s typically not ever targeted by most body builders – yet your leg abductor muscles are so important if you want to run fast. If you can do this exercise lying down or seated somehow with a band that would be eliminate this risk to your sprained ankle. Perfect for plantar fasciitis patients also since the lying down variation is non-weight bearing.
BONUS: Try the Leg ADDuction Machineor Band Lying Down.
Variety is the spice of life so show your inner thigh a bit of love with the leg adduction machine. If you don’t have that machine strapping a pulley or band to your leg then pulling your leg towards your center line will do the same thing. Ideally if you can do this seated or lying down it will specifically target the adductor leg muscles and avoid loading up your injured lower limb. This in turn will shield your heel pain and allow your to get your burn on.
Machine Press: AVOID
This is effectively the same as a squat just without the benefit of major core engagement, meaning your feet and legs are working overtime and your heel pain is not going to get worse. Avoid this exercise too.
Try the Lying Leg Raise Instead
People love a good leg raise and why not? It gets the blood pumping to your core and works those hip flexor muscles which are all so important to condition and strengthen if you want to run fast. If you do this exercise whilst lying down or using a leg raise frame then you’re removing the pressure from your injured legs at the same time – which is always a nice idea when you’re recovering from heel pain.
The lovely lunge exercise is amazingly painful during but very rewarding after when done right because it strengthens whole leg and core muscles. Unfortunately this exercise will almost certainly aggravate your heel pain and if you didn’t have forefoot pain before – you’ll most likely have it after doing this exercise. Hence our recommendation to avoid this exercise when you’re recovering from Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, foot muscle strains and ankle sprains.
Try the Cross trainer or Exercise Bike Instead:
Just because you’re in the gym doesn’t mean you have to solely use weights and weight machines. Cross training will help you maintain your hard-earned fitness whilst minimizing your chances of worsening your heel pain. If you’re used to running then try some easier cardio machines such as the exercise bike or cross trainer. Remember to go easy on your body whilst it’s recovering and if pain rears it’s head then just stop. It’s better to go easy and progress, then be in pain and regress. IF both of these exercises still hurt your heels then give swimming a shot – just don’t push too hard (if at all) off from the walls on either end.
Heel Pain Lingering? See our Perth Podiatrist.
I hope the above exercise suggestions and commentary proves useful and allows you to not skip leg day despite your plantar fasciitis, Achilles Tendonitis, ankle sprain or heel pain. If you have heel pain and don’t know what’s causing it then do yourself a favour and visit our Perth Podiatrist. Not only does he always like to talk fitness, but we’re always keen to share some pro tips and tricks to get you recovering quicker from heel pain. An expert examination will identify what leg structures are damaged and any required imaging can be ordered so your Perth Podiatrist can garner a wholistic view of your lower limb biomechanics. From there Foot & Leg Podiatry university trained Perth Podiatrist can commence your targeted treatment program to get your heel pain resolved quickly and effectively. Treatments can include custom foot orthotics, foot mobilisation and exercise programs to resolve your plantar fasciitis or heel pain. Our Perth Podiatry Clinics are easy to find and you can book your appointment simply by calling or enquiring online.
Happy Gyming Without Heel Pain!
SUPER BONUS – Avoid Heel Pain Printable Fact Sheet (bring it with you to the gym)