Heel Pain Has Many Causes. In our pursuit of health, pain plays the enemy role. In some instances, however, it does possess biological benefit. Pain that occurs as a result of injury or early in an illness may play a protective role, often warning us about the damage that we’ve suffered.
When we sprain an ankle, for example, the pain warns us that the ligament and soft tissues may be frayed and bruised, and that further activity may cause additional injury.
Pain, such as may occur in our heels, also alerts us to seek medical attention. This alert is of utmost importance because of the many afflictions that contribute to heel pain.
Heel pain is generally the result of faulty biomechanics (walking gait abnormalities) that place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues that are attached to it. The stress may also result from injury, or a bruise incurred while walking, running, or jumping on hard surfaces; wearing poor fitting and poorly constructed footwear; or carrying excess weight.
The largest of the 26 bones in the human foot is the heel. The foot is also made up of 33 joints and a network of more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Like all bones, the heel is subject to outside influences that can affect its integrity and its ability to keep us on our feet. Heel pain, sometimes even disabling to sufferers, can occur in the front, back, or bottom of the heel.
A number of steps can be taken to avoid heel pain and any accompanying afflictions:
- Wear the proper shoes for each activity you do.
- Wear shoes that fit your feet well—front, back, and sides—and have rigid shanks, shock-absorbent soles, and supportive heel counters.
- Avoid wearing shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles.
- Prepare properly before exercising. Warm up and do stretching exercises before and after running or jogging.
- Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities.
- If obese, lose weight.
- Don’t underestimate your body’s need for rest and good nutrition.
Podiatric Medical Care
If experiencing pain or other symptoms of inflammation, which include redness, swelling, or heat, you should limit normal daily activities and contact a doctor of podiatry.
The podiatric physician will examine the painful or inflamed area and may perform diagnostic X-rays to rule out problems of the bone.
Early treatment of heel spurs might involve oral or injectable anti-inflammatory medication, exercise and shoe recommendations, taping or strapping, or use of shoe inserts or other orthotic devices. Taping or strapping of the foot provides extra support, placing stressed tendons and muscles in a physiologically restful state. Physical therapy may be used in addition to such treatments.
A functional orthotic device may be prescribed by your foot and ankle specialist for correcting biomechanical imbalance, supporting of the ligaments and tendons attaching to the heel bone, and controlling excessive pronation. These types of devices will effectively treat the majority of heel and arch pain without the need for surgery.
Relatively, only a few cases of heel pain require more complicated treatments or surgery. If surgery is deemed necessary, it may involve the release of the plantar fascia, removal of a bursa, removal of a spur, or removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.
Heel Pain Tips
- If you are or have experienced painful heels, try wearing your shoes around your house in the evening. Don’t wear socks or slippers or go barefoot. You could also try gentle calf stretches for a duration of 20 to 30 seconds on each leg. Calf stretching is best done barefoot, by leaning forward towards a wall with one foot forward and one foot back.
- If your heel pain persists for longer than one month, you should visit a podiatrist for evaluation and treatment. Your feet should not hurt, and professional podiatric care may be required to help relieve your discomfort.
- Begin an exercise program slowly. Don’t go too far or too fast.
- If you have not exercised in a long time, consult your podiatric physician before starting a new exercise program.
- Purchase and maintain well-fitting shoes in good condition and replace them regularly.
- Stretch each foot and achilles tendon before and after exercise.
- Do your best to avoid uneven walking surfaces or stepping on rocks as much as possible.
- You should avoid walking barefoot on hard surfaces.
- If it hurts, stop. Don’t try to “work through the pain.”
- Vary the incline on a treadmill during exercise. Nobody walks uphill all the time.
Your podiatric physician/surgeon has been trained specifically and extensively in the diagnosis and treatment of all manner of foot conditions. This training encompasses all of the intricately related systems and structures of the foot and lower leg including circulatory, neurological, skin, and the musculoskeletal system, which includes joints, bones, ligaments, muscles, tendons, and nerves.