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Heal That Heel! A Guide to Heel Pain Prevention

From professional athletes and long-distance runners to the most sedentary people, everyone has the vulnerability to experience some kind of heel pain. According to Berkeley Wellness, about two million Americans suffer from heel pain at any given time and it is the most common disorder treated in foot clinics.

Heel pain is often caused by plantar fasciitis, which is inflammation of the fibrous band of tissue (plantar fascia) on the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the base of your toes. Putting weight on your heel can cause great pain if you have this condition, usually in the morning or if you’ve been sitting for a long period of time.

The following can cause plantar fasciitis:

  • Wearing high heels or flats with no foot support
  • Vigorous participation in sports or weight-bearing exercises, especially without the right shoes
  • Walking and/or running on hard surfaces often
  • Being overweight
  • Tight calf muscles that limit flexibility of the ankles
  • Having flat feet or high arches
  • Having one leg longer than the other
  • Losing connective tissue as you age

How you can treat plantar fasciitis:

This painful heel condition usually heals on its own with the average episode lasting nine months. If it’s your first time having plantar fasciitis, or you’re having an especially painful episode, it’s a good idea to consult a podiatrist or your physician who may refer you to one.

While there is little evidence that different self-treatments for heel pain are better than another, read below for some suggestions on how you can relieve pain, improve your flexibility and strengthen the muscles around it.

  • Limit activities and keep weight off your foot whenever possible.
  • Don’t stop exercising, but avoid high-impact or weight-bearing activities. Try swimming and cycling.
  • Try to lose weight if you’re overweight.
  • Try over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, aspirin, or ibuprofen.
  • Make sure your shoes are comfortable, are well-cushioned, and have shock-absorbent soles. They should have good heel construction and shouldn’t be slipping up and down.
  • Icing your heel may relieve some pain.
  • Stretch your plantar fascia and calf muscles first thing in the morning.
  • Do toe-strengthening exercises, such as scrunching up a towel with your toes.

If heal pain persists:

If pain does not improve after trying treatments on you own, if it keeps you awake at night and you cannot walk without limping, your doctor may suggest treatments like night splints, corticosteroid injections, shockwave therapy, and taping of the heel. If your doctor suggests surgery, get a second opinion. Surgery is rarely necessary except for heel spur removal and even then only in some cases.

Make sure to consult your primary care physician or chiropractor for all health related advice.

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