Heel pain from bicycling usually originates from three sources, Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and Plantaris ligament sprain. Overtraining, poor pedaling technique, improper body mechanics and incorrect bike fit are the genesis of these three conditions. Tight muscles repetitively tug on the heel bone, or calcaneous, creating pain, tenderness and swelling. Implementing changes on and off the bike will lessen and prevent cycling-induced heel pain.
Plantar Fasciitis, or PF, is common among runners, jumpers, climbers, and cyclists. Pain from PF is located on the base, or plantar aspect, of the heel. The worst spot is where the thick fibrous tissue called the plantar fascia attaches to the front part of the heel. Plantar fasciitis is classified as periostitis because repetitive stretching of the fascia pulls the covering, or periosteum, away from the bone. The pain is worse in the morning or after prolonged sitting and is described as feeling like, "Walking on a pebble." Pushing hard in high gears while pedaling with the balls of your feet contacting the pedals and ankles flexed downward is the source of plantar fasciitis from cycling.
Inflammation of Achilles tendon is called Achilles tendonitis. Pain, swelling and tenderness where the tendon attaches to the heel bone is caused by repetitive stress, incorrect technique and overtraining. Muscle tightness causes an abnormal amount of pull on the spot of attachment. This pull creates improper motion of the calcaneous leading to poor foot bio-mechanics. Stretching the calves will lessen increased muscle tension and the source of Achilles tendonitis from cycling.
The plantaris muscle is a small, thin ankle muscle that attaches to the inner, or medial aspect of the heel bone. It assists the larger calf muscles in flexing the ankle downward and works to increase lower leg proprioception, or the body's awareness of where its at in nature. Incorrect pedaling technique and poor body mechanics are the source of the plantaris muscle creating heel pain from bike riding.
On the Bike
Correct bike fit and correct technique will lessen and prevent heel pain from cycling. Have an experienced rider or bike shop professional fit your bike to your body size. Proper bike fit maximizes efficiency, reduces stress on the muscloskeletal system and ensures proper movement patterns. Use proper technique while pedaling. Incorrect body mechanics and body positioning increase the pressure on the foot, heel and lower leg, thus leading to injury. Overtraining, including inadequate rest between rides and increasing intensity and duration too quickly lead to pain and injury. Increase your cycling volume in gradual increments to eliminate overuse injuries. Consider getting properly fitted for cycling shoes which are stiffer than other athletic shoes, and could help combat issues like plantar fasciitis.
Off the Bike
Warm up before and cool down after riding. Dynamic motions and static stretches will supply ample blood flow to the muscles and increase joint range of motion. Stretch and massage the calf muscles and achilles tendon. These powerful muscles are major movers and exert a tremendous amount of pull on the calcaneous. Stretching and massage decreases their tension on the heel bone and eliminates the origin of the pain. Strengthen your core muscles. Strong abdominal and low back muscles combat fatigue that leads to poor riding technique and poor positioning.