What Causes Heel Pain and How Can I Treat It?

Heel pain may be plantar fasciitis

Heel pain — ouch! It can really hurt and affect your lifestyle.

During the early stages of heel pain, which is often plantar fasciitis, stiffness in the foot might be your first clue. It may have started with a sensation like a stone bruise under the heel of your foot.

Heel pain doesn’t limit itself to active woman (termed an “overuse syndrome”); even woman busy at the computer with limited walking activity can experience this. It’s not limited to petite or non-petite body types, either; both are affected.

Why?

There are many variables contributing to the onset of heel pain and plantar fasciitis. But there is a common thread between women (and even men): it will often progress to the point where you’re in pain even during the first steps out of bed in the morning.

This is because as soft tissue tears, the body attempts to heal itself any time there is no weight on the foot, such as when you are sleeping.

What Causes It?

Heel pain is most likely due to micro tears of the soft tissue of a sheath medically termed the plantar fascia. Fascia is similar to a ligament and found all over the body, but the plantar fascia has a very important function. Therefore it has a specific name for when there’s a problem: plantar fasciitis (fascitis).

The pain can actually begin in the center of the arch, like a strain, and expand to the tips of your toes where the fascia ends. Because of this, it should be diagnosed by a physician, as pain extending to the ends of your toes can also be more serious conditions such as a herniated disc in the spine, nerve damage, or even diabetes.

How Can You Alleviate It?

If the pain has only been present a few days or a couple weeks, you may simply need to change your shoes. Supportive shoes with a rocker bottom or slanted sole, such as Therafit running shoes or sandals, can ease the tension on the plantar fascia and aid in healing.

Notice the arch support designed in the shoe to help support the injured fascia and reduce strain. This arch support reinforces the healing process that occurred during rest or sleeping.

Remember, when one muscle group is tight, there is an effect on the mechanics of the rest of the foot (and even in the knees, hips and back). Many healthcare practitioners often recommend arch support to help lift and reduce strain on the injured tissues to promote healing; even compression sleeves can be beneficial.

It is important to use the same shoe a few days to determine if it has features that aid your foot in healing. If after three to ten days, you aren’t finding relief in a particular shoe, you may want to try a different style.

You might find it helpful to put your shoes on before stepping out of bed in the morning, allowing the shoe to “splint” the foot. You should also consider wearing a waterproof ssandal with arch support while showering.

Do You Need a Brace?

If your feet contract too much during rest or you have tight heel cords (a common cause of heel pain), you may need to use a device that holds your foot and leg in a special position to help stretch out the fascia and heel cords while you sleep. These are termed a night splint or an equinus brace.

In our Ask A Doc series Dr. DeHeer states “there are many styles of night splints on the market — requiring that they be worn while sleeping. However, night splints are only as good as the position in which the heel cords are maintained in a properly stretched position; the knee must remain extending straight out. With the best-designed night splints, it is only necessary to wear them about thirty minutes per day for a six-week or longer period of time.”

Should You See a Doctor?

However, if heel pain persists, you should seek the advice of a foot and ankle specialist to prevent scar tissue from forming and to verify the cause of the symptoms. Your health care professional can provide a treatment plan that fits your busy lifestyle and restores you to an active, rewarding, empowering lifestyle.

For more information on plantar fasciitis, check out this post.

This post was originally published on our blog.