You might think that spending a lot more time at home for an extended period of time would be a good thing for your heels.
In certain, specific circumstances that might be true, for a few people. But for others, the change in routines can have the exact opposite effect!
Just like any other part of your body, feet and heels need support, conditioning, and care to remain in peak shape. As we all (understandably and necessarily) take steps to protect ourselves and others during this COVID-19 crisis, the changes in routine can have unforeseen and unfortunate consequences on the health of feet and ankles.
And, quarantine or not, heel pain can really make your days miserable!
Troubleshooting Heel Pain In an Age of COVID-19
Heel pain, as we’ve said many times, can have many potential causes and contributing factors. So the triggers for your “quarantine” heel pain may not be exactly the same as others, even in your own household!
That said, here are a few of the possible culprits (and solutions):
Going barefoot for most (or all) of the day.
Most working people, students, and others who typically spent most of their days outside the home (before the pandemic) would typically also wear shoes for most of the day. But if you’re now spending almost all your time at home, you might only spend a few minutes per day wearing anything other than socks (or maybe fuzzy slippers) on your feet.
That can be a big problem, especially if you have a lot of hard floors in your home, and even more so if you have flat arches or other biomechanical faults that increase stress on your heels. Without shoes, your feet aren’t getting the regular cushioning and support they expect to get, and taking the full brunt of impact forces when you stand and walk. Do this for several days in a row without a break (instead of just the weekends), and those heels can start to get chronically aggravated.
If you find this to be your situation, we recommend you continue to wear your shoes indoors at least part of the day, especially when you’ll be walking around on hard floors. This is extra important if you typically wear orthotics as well.
Too little activity
Although “rest” can be an important component of treatment for an acute flareup of heel pain, an overall sedentary lifestyle can actually increase your risk of developing a chronic issue. This is often the result of a combination of:
- Weight gain. The heavier you are, the more force on your heels. In fact, each pound of body weight can translate to 2-3 pounds worth of impact force.
- Poor conditioning. Again, like any other part of your body, feet need to be regularly stretched and exercised to stay in top shape. Weakened foot muscles and supportive tissues, along with less flexible joints, increase the risk of injury and fatigue.
It’s important that you not let COVID-19 be an excuse to dramatically scale back your level of physical activity. While the ways you used to get your exercise (work, shopping, team sports, etc.) may not necessarily be accessible to you right now, you should still find alternative, social-distance-approved ways to get moving.
You should also consider incorporating arch, heel, and calf stretches into your daily routine. This blog from our archive has a few good examples of stretches you can try.
Too MUCH activity
On the other hand, some people might see a dramatic increase in their activity levels during this time! Hopefully you are only doing so in ways that are safe, socially distant, and in accordance with state and local guidelines!
This might be your situation if you’ve started to get a little stir crazy at home and are spending a lot more time on walks or runs than you used to—or if you’re spending your day chasing children or dogs instead of sitting at your desk.
While we hugely encourage all our patients to be as active as they want to be, new exercise routines can have unintended consequences if you aren’t prepared for them! Make sure you start out slowly and listen to your body, only increasing the intensity by about 10 percent per week. Also, make sure you are wearing proper athletic shoes—meaning they fit, are in good shape, and appropriate for the activity you are pursuing (e.g., running shoes vs walking shoes).
We know it isn’t the easiest time to be buying new shoes if you don’t have an appropriate pair. Normally, we’d always recommend trying before you buy, but that may not be possible now. If you have to order online, make sure you pick a retailer with a good return policy, as exercising in shoes that aren’t right for your feet can often make problems worse.
Other Quick Suggestions
Let’s take a moment to quickly summarize some of the specific tips mentioned above, as well as provide a few others:
- Avoid going barefoot all day, especially if your home has a lot of hard surfaces.
- Try to at least maintain the same overall level of activity you had before the stay-at-home period began, or increase it slowly.
- Stretch your feet, ankles, and calves regularly throughout the day.
- Make sure you wear appropriate shoes for walking and exercise.
- Do rest your feet when you need to. If pain is spiking, spending a couple of days keeping your feet elevated can really help. Just don’t set into a permanent sedentary routine.
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever when necessary, but only as directed.
- Consider activity adjustments to lower-impact exercises. Instead of running every day, for example, try switching it up and walking or riding your bicycle more frequently to reduce stress on your heels.
What If Heel Pain Persists?
If you act early enough, most mild to moderate heel pain can be stopped in its tracks through home-based solutions. However, sometimes pain persists.
Heel pain that is affecting your quality of life is an urgent concern, and our office is still open to treat patients with certain foot care needs. As you might expect, we are rigorously following all applicable guidelines to keep our office as safe and sterile as possible.
If your heel pain won’t go away and you aren’t sure where to turn at a time like this, please give us a call. We can help you determine whether you should see us for an appointment, or if there are additional steps you can take at home that we’d recommend first. Either way, our experts will help guide you to the appropriate next steps for your situation, regardless of what they may be.