Heel pain is one of the most common complaints we hear at Family Foot and Ankle Center—in fact, most of us will deal with this stubborn foe at least once in our lives for one reason or another. Pain either under or just behind the heel affects a wide swath of the population, and although symptoms are often fleeting and temporary, they can also become chronic and severe, requiring special care for relief.
Plantar Fasciitis—What Is It?
If you’ve noticed swollen or aching heels that hurt worst in the early morning when you take those first few steps, you may have plantar fasciitis, the most common cause of heel pain in adults. In this condition, tiny tears in the plantar fascia (that’s the band of tissue that supports your arch, connecting toes to heel) cause it to swell. When you’re not bearing weight, the tissue contracts; when you get out of bed you may experience a sharp pain for a few minutes, until the tissue has a chance to stretch back out and relax a bit.
Understanding the Risk Factors
Plantar fasciitis can affect a wide range of the population for a variety of reasons, although it’s most common among men and women in their 40s and 50s. Overuse is a common cause. If you engage in activities that put a lot of repeated stress on your heel (running or dancing), or have to do a lot of standing and walking at work, you’re at greater risk. Foot structure and walking mechanics can play a role, too: high or low arches, overpronation, even an abnormal gait can place extra stress on the heel. Tight Achilles tendons or calves (which pull on the heel), obesity (which puts extra force on the feet), and footwear that doesn’t fit or support your feet well may be involved as well.
Maintaining a healthy weight, always choosing supportive footwear that is appropriate for your activity and in good repair, regular stretching, and cross-training with low-impact exercise to give your heels a break from walking or jogging can go a long way toward preventing plantar fasciitis—or at least minimizing your foot pain.
Fighting Back Against Stubborn Heel Pain
When you visit Family Foot and Ankle Center, our experts will inspect your foot for tenderness and other symptoms. A physical examination is usually enough to make a diagnosis, but in some situations we may recommend an imaging test to rule out other potential problems, such as stress fractures.
Fortunately, most people suffering from plantar fasciitis respond well to conservative treatments within a few months. If your symptoms are related to an underlying condition such as flat feet or high arches, an over-the-counter insert or custom-made orthotic can help redistribute the weight across your foot to avoid troublesome pressure points. In addition, a physical therapy routine can help you stretch the tight plantar fascia and Achilles tendon and strengthen muscles in your lower legs to provide more stability and support. We may also recommend night splints to keep tissues stretched while you sleep, or show you how to use athletic tape to support your sole.
Surgically detaching the plantar fascia from the heel remains an option for the most severe cases, when pain remains significant even after conservative options have been exhausted. This is almost never necessary, however, and does come with risks and side effects (including a weakening of the arch).
In the meantime, getting a little extra rest and using painkillers or anti-inflammatories (if approved by your doctor) can help with the soreness and swelling. For tougher pain, we may recommend steroid injections.
Tough heel pain got you down? Family Foot and Ankle Center is Greater Cincinnati’s No. 1 resource for quick foot pain relief, with six locations throughout Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky to serve you. Call us at (513) 728-4800 or (859) 282-1572 to schedule an appointment today.