Tips to Prevent Heel Pain During Cycling

By Tim Bochnowski

Ooh, get on down like

Uh, I wanna get on the good foot

Ho, good foot, I got to get on the good foot, ah

– James Brown

Plantar fasciitis is a common painful disorder affecting the heel and underside of the foot. It involves pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, which spans the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone and your forefoot. It is often caused by overuse resulting in micro tears or contraction of the plantar fascia, ultimately causing bone spurs. Plantar fasciitis is common in runners, triathletes and occasionally cyclists.

There is a whole host of stretching, strengthening, recovery and maintenance options available to cyclists who are encountering plantar fasciitis. Many excellent websites show how to correctly stretch and strengthen this problem area. As always, when issues arise, seek medical advice from your personal physician or medical professional first. They can identify what sort of injury you have, making sure you get appropriate treatment for your condition.

From a bike fitting perspective, proper pedal/cleat setup is important to guard against plantar fasciitis. Generally, the ball of your foot should be directly over or slightly in front of the pedal axle. Knee-foot alignment must also be checked. Finally cleat float should be adjusted. Pay special attention to your calves, ankles, feet and Achilles tendon when changing to a new pedal system or replacing cleats. Please be aware that any adjustments may require additional saddle height assessment.

Second, consider installing more support inside your shoe. Pronation, the rotation of your feet moving inward toward the bicycle frame during the pedal stroke, may attribute to foot pain. Often insoles or the use of wedges in the shoe or between the cleat and shoe can help align the knee and foot lessening ankle rotation and foot stress. Finally, check for lateral rock in your bike shoes. When clipped into your pedals, see if someone can rock your foot side to side (like a boat on rough water). Replace all loose or worn cleats. Despite being a low impact sport, foot pronation can fatigue the plantar fascia while cycling.

Could saddle height contribute to PF? Maybe…A saddle set too high may force a cyclist to point the toes to reach the bottom of the pedal stroke. “Ankling”, otherwise known as excessive ankle movement or range, could be considered a culprit in bottom of foot pain. Similarly a low seat, high torque, heel down pedaling technique, as associated with seated hill climbing, may also cause issues.

Most cases of PF resolve with time and respond to conservative methods of treatment. Rest, cross training, icing, therapy and night splints may all be ordered by your physician. A referral to a foot disorder specialist or sports medicine doctor is another option. Biomechanical adjusting during a bike fit and pedal coaching could also be beneficial.

In the end, having a good bicycle position is crucial. While considering these aforementioned ideas utilized in bicycle fitting, keep in mind, nothing beats a good bike fit from a well-trained and experienced fitter. Comfort and efficiency breeds performance. Keep working at improving your position and ride more bike.

Tim Bochnowski is the practitioner of bicycle fitting at Mountain Velo in Park City, UT. Fitting bicycles since 1985, Tim recently had clients win both USA U23 Road and Mountain Bike National Championships. He has been trained by BIKEFIT, Slowtwitch, Retul and several other fitting techniques. To schedule a fit, Tim can be reached at 435-575-8356, [email protected] or www.mountainvelo.com.

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