Heel pain is one of the most common painful symptoms faced by Americans on a daily basis. Millions are suffering right now.
Despite this, far too many people give up the fight against heel pain before they even begin—or perhaps after only a few halfhearted attempts at dulling the pain.
If you or a loved one is struggling with heel pain right now, don’t give up! It’s important to understand that, while heel pain can take many forms and emerge as the result of several different diagnoses, almost all of them can be treated without surgery, usually within a period of several weeks to a few months.
Let’s talk about some of the many conservative treatment options you may have at your disposal.
Take a Break
If you think your heel pain has flared up due to a recent, rapid increase in activity—say, from starting a new sport or exercise routine—consider taking a brief pause to let your feet rest and recover.
- Avoid strenuous, high-impact exercise for a few days
- Keep your feet elevated a bit when you sit or lie down
- Use ice and/or anti-inflammatories to control pain and swelling
If symptoms recede after a few days, you can start to ramp up the intensity again—but make sure you go slow and steady. Feet need time to adjust to new levels of strain and build up their endurance slowly. Go at an easy pace, then increase by no more than 10% per week.
Upgrade Your Shoes
Poor footwear is a leading cause of heel pain in people of all ages.
In today’s world—where extremely hard and flat surfaces are both unforgiving and everywhere—it’s especially important that the shoes you wear provide the necessary cushioning and support for your heels and arches.
When you wear shoes or sandals that feature little-to-no support, your feet end up taking a lot of extra abuse. Heels may suffer due to lack of padding, or because the plantar fascia ligament of the arch becomes aggravated near the point where it “inserts” into the heel bone.
It’s also important to:
- Make sure your shoes fit. Don’t settle for an uncomfortable shoe just because it’s the style you want. It should be comfortable to stand and walk in right away, without pinching or sliding around.
- Replace shoes once they are worn down. The arch support won’t last forever. If pain is starting to emerge or return, it’s probably time for a new pair.
- Select shoes that are appropriate for your activity. If you like to run, for example, invest in a quality pair of running shoes. If you play basketball, buy basketball shoes. Don’t expect generic gym shoes to give your feet the same quality of support and injury resistance!
Swap Out Your Insoles
For some foot shapes, simply finding a better pair of shoes may not be enough. The default insoles that come in a pair of shoes are generally designed for “normal” feet with a neutral arch shape. But a lot of people don’t fit the norm!
If you have a more abnormal foot shape or issue with your gait mechanics—flat feet, high arches, overpronation, etc.—you would probably benefit from replacing the regular insoles of your shoes with a set of orthotics matched more closely to your needs.
The trick is finding the right pair. We don’t recommend that you go to the pharmacy and try to pick out some insoles yourself, since it’s unlikely you’ll get what you truly need. Instead, come to us. We distribute high quality insoles that we select based on an expert evaluation of your foot. We also can fit you for custom orthotics if you have a more significant structural or gait problem that needs a more precise approach.
Stretch and Exercise Your Feet and Calves
Most people understand the benefit of working on cardio, or doing lat pulls, or not skipping “leg day.” But what you may not realize is that feet and ankles also benefit from regular stretching and exercise.
One notable example is that tight calf muscles are a frequent cause of heel pain. Your calves are powerful muscles, connected to your heels and feet via the Achilles tendon. If your calves are tight, they can yank painfully on the Achilles as well as the plantar fascia, resulting in chronic heel pain. It’s a good idea, then, to stretch your calves regularly throughout the day.
We also recommend simple foot strengthening exercises you can perform using a towel or resistance band. This is a great one to do right before getting out of bed, especially if your heel pain tends to be at its worst in the morning. Simply sit with legs out in front of you, wrap the towel or band around the top part of your foot, and pull back gently with your hands while providing counterpressure from your foot.
Wear Splints at Night
A night splint for plantar fasciitis can often help reduce the amount of pain and aggravation you feel with the first steps of the morning.
One of the reasons why heel pain seems so bad in the first waking moments of the day is because the plantar fascia naturally contracts when your feet are at rest. When you put weight on your feet again, the injured tissue is re-aggravated as it’s forced to suddenly stretch out again.
Wearing a night splint helps you keep your calves and plantar fascia elongated when you sleep, which can greatly reduce the sudden, surprising irritation and stress when you put your foot on the ground again.
Still Struggling with Heel Pain? We Can Help
While all the above strategies are time-tested and can be helpful for many patients with common diagnoses and mild-to-moderate symptoms, it’s important to understand that none of them are a “magic bullet.” Some may be highly effective for your specific circumstances, while others may not be.
That’s because heel pain isn’t a simple condition with a consistent, straightforward cause. Many different diagnoses can lead to heel pain as a symptom, each with a variety of possible underlying causes.
We know that can be frustrating, but trust us—there’s no reason to despair. If your home treatments for heel pain aren’t working, it probably just means you haven’t quite found the right combination of treatments that are the best fit for your feet and your lifestyle.
And you don’t have to keep trying treatments at random until you find something that works, either. Dr. Yuko Miyazaki is an expert when it comes to identifying the root causes of heel pain and building effective treatment plans personalized for her patients. With an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, the vast majority (more than 90 percent) of patients with heel pain will be able to get their symptoms totally under control within 3-4 months, using non-surgical methods only.