We expect a lot from our feet and often don’t take care of them as well as we should. One consequence of neglecting our feet is heel pain. In fact, heel pain is the number one reason people see a doctor for foot problems.
What Causes Heel Pain?
The most common reason for heel pain among the approximately 2 million Americans who suffer each year with this problem is plantar fasciitis (inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament), according to the Plantar Fasciitis Organization. This ligament runs the entire length of the bottom of the foot. When it develops tiny tears from wearing improper shoes, being overweight, standing for long periods on hard surfaces, participating in long distance running or other activities that can overly stress the ligament, plantar fasciitis can develop.
Another common cause of heel pain is heel spurs. These are calcium deposits that develop on the underside of the heel bone. Heel spurs frequently occur along with plantar fasciitis, and treatments are similar for each cause of heel pain.
Treating Heel Pain without Drugs
The most important thing to remember about heel pain is to address it early. You may try to ignore the stabbing, aching, or burning pain or hope it will disappear, but you may incur additional damage if you let it go. Therefore, take the following steps to reduce and eliminate the pain and inflammation before you reach the point of needing medication:
The trick with this tip for plantar fasciitis and heel spurs is not too much rest, because inactivity can make the pain worse, at least until the ligaments get warmed up and stretched after a night’s sleep or prolonged time off of your feet. The pain typically decreases as you keep walking. Do rest, however, by temporarily reducing or eliminating the activities that can aggravate your pain, such as running or standing on hard surfaces for long periods.
Apply ice to your heels (for heel spurs) and soles (plantar fasciitis) for about 10 minutes three to four times a day.
Simple stretching exercises are critically important to eliminating plantar fasciitis and heel spurs as well. One super easy exercise involves sitting and grasping the toes of one foot with your fingers and gently but firmly bending your toes toward the top of your foot. Hold the stretch for about 5 seconds, then release. Repeat 8 to 10 times, then do the other foot. Do this exercise before getting up in the morning, several times during the day, and in bed at night.
4. Use supports.
Over-the-counter arch supports or orthotics can reduce the stress in your ligaments if you have plantar fasciitis. For heel spurs, heel supports can be helpful, as can orthotics.
You can do a gentle self-massage or have a partner massage your feet for you. A massage followed by light stretching is a good combination before bed and in the morning.
6. Get better shoes.
It you have heel pain, it’s time to evaluate your shoes. Do the shoes in your closet offer adequate support for your arches and heels? Have your sports shoes seen better days? Now is a good time to do your feet a favor and choose footwear with proper support. Talk to a podiatrist if you need help in choosing shoes that best support your feet and address your heel problems.
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If your heel pain does not improve after several weeks, you should see a podiatrist or a sports medicine specialist. She or he may recommend anti-inflammatory drugs, splints, or in rare cases, surgery. Most people who have heel pain, however, can get adequate relief without the need for drugs or medical procedures.