If you play sports that involve running or dancing, put stress on your feet a lot, or simply stand on your feet for long hours, you’re a strong candidate for developing heel pain.
Heel pain will manifest in different ways depending on what’s causing it. It can manifest as tightness for some people and as burning for others.
You might have heel pain that can go away for minutes or hours during the day, only to return without mercy at night. It may be present all the time, or only be noticeable while you’re walking, running, or standing still.
In short: it depends. The one universal truth about heel pain is that It can prevent athletes from doing their jobs and non-athletes from carrying out their daily activities.
The good news is: whatever your type of heel pain is, it has a name, a cause, and a treatment.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON TYPES OF HEEL PAIN?
If one or both of your heels hurt, chances are you’re dealing with one of the following conditions:
“Fascia” refers to the connective tissue that covers, protects, and stabilizes every muscle of your body. Yet, although it’s a protective tissue, it can also become irritated and cause pain.
That’s what happens with plantar fasciitis, AKA the most common cause of heel pain: the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your toes becomes inflamed.
This inflammation typically results in heel pain after rest and pain relief right after moving. The pain is constant and dull, but it can become sharp upon touching the affected area.
Heel spurs can be painless. But when they hurt, they hurt.
In essence, heel spurs are like an uninvited calcium growth. When the calcium solidifies, it creates a bone-like protrusion under the heel bone. This protrusion pokes and consequently inflames the fascia – which, in turn, can create a visible bulge on your heel area.
The intensity of heel pain caused by heel spurs can range from mild to intense. It’s characterized by a sharp pain after waking up or being immobile for too long, as well as tenderness around the spur. However, you can also experience a consistent, annoying ache.
Your Achilles tendon connects your heel bone to your calf. It’s strong, but not unbreakable.
When it becomes inflamed, your Achilles tendon can cause a great deal of heel pain, stiffness, weakness, and swelling, which is a condition called Achilles tendinitis. The pain can radiate towards the back of the lower leg and at the top of the heel.
Your heel bone (also called the calcaneus) can only take so much pressure on a daily basis. Because it offers support for activities like running, its overuse can cause small, painful breaks. These are called stress fractures, owing to the long-term stress affecting this area.
Especially common in athletes, stress fractures are known for sending them home limping. Symptoms like swelling and tenderness can follow suit.
Between all of your tendons there are small fluid-filled pouches called “bursas.” They cushion your tendons, protecting them from harm by absorbing shock. But you guessed it: they, too, can become inflamed causing bursitis.
And when they do, this inflammation causes pain and swelling in the affected area. You may notice that your heel becomes puffy, red, and tender to the touch.
WAYS TO PREVENT HEEL PAIN
WEAR PROPER FITTING SHOES
Your feet will have to essentially acquire a brand new shape in order to fit into a tight shoe. They aren’t built for that. Shoes are meant to protect your feet, but small shoes are doing the opposite of that. Wearing the proper shoe size may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s essential to prevent any type of heel pain or other types of foot pain.
MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT
This can be a sensitive topic for some people, but it’s an important one. The more you weigh, the higher the stress you’ll put on your feet. Not only that, but conditions like obesity can stretch out the fascia, causing wear and tear and increasing the chances of pain development.
WARM UP PROPERLY
Warm-ups may be boring, but they’re just as important as the workout itself. They can raise your body temperature, easing your body into the active state it needs to be during a workout.
Ideally, a warm-up should last between 5 to 10 minutes. Warm-ups even enhance muscle performance and prevent injuries that may be a gateway for heel pain.
Granted, warm-ups don’t eradicate post-workout soreness. But they do a great job of diminishing it.
COOL DOWN PROPERLY
If warm-ups are overlooked, imagine cool-downs. Again, they’re just as important as the former.
Your workout isn’t done until you’ve properly cooled down. The buildup of lactic acid after intense workouts results in muscle cramping and tears, which cool-downs help release.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENTS FOR HEEL PAIN?
Each case of heel pain is different, so the treatment will be different too. However, here are some treatments for heel pain that we offer in our clinic.
The right custom orthotics are like makeshift feet if you will. Their supportive cushioning provides comfortable reinforcement to the affected areas so that your heel stays stabilized and secured throughout the healing process.
There’s a reason why we haven’t mentioned store-bought orthotics. Those can be helpful for some patients – but because they aren’t molded around specific conditions, they might leave much to be desired.
Multiwave Locked System (MLS) laser therapy or simply “laser therapy” combines the emission of two lasers: a continuous wave of an 808 nm laser and a pulsed wave of a 905 nm laser. Together, these two lasers work precisely to decrease inflammation and speed up healing.
The most pressing questions around this type of treatment are: Does it work? Is it safe?
Yes, it works. Studies show that, when performed in addition to physical therapy, laser therapy has decreased pain and increased functional activity after 6 months. Although most podiatrists recommend 6 to 12 treatments across multiple weeks, our doctors will advise you on your specific case.
As for safety, laser therapy is a non-invasive treatment option with little to no side effects. As with any laser, there might be a tiny bit of redness or inflammation right after treatment.
As a fellow non-invasive procedure, regenerative medicines focus on two main products: amniotic fluid injections and platelet-rich plasma injections.
The amniotic fluid is known for protecting fetuses from injury inside the womb. The fluid cushions the baby from outside pressures, acting as a shock absorber. It can do the same for your feet.
Platelet-rich plasma, as the name suggests, is rich in cells that release tissue-repairing substances.
Both fluids can be injected directly into the affected area in high concentrations as a way of boosting healthy tissue and further healing.
And of course, the most “feared” treatment. The sooner your heel pain is treated – ideally by our podiatrists – the less likely you are to need any type of surgery.
Still, if your pain is interfering with your daily life and you do need surgery, it’s not the end of the world. Recovery might be faster than you think, and that incessant pain will finally leave you alone.
LET US HELP YOU GET RID OF YOUR HEEL PAIN!
Guess what: you don’t have to live with that barely bearable pain until it gets “severe enough” for surgery. Your future self will thank you for not prolonging the decision to seek medical help.
Just call our Chandler office at (480) 963-9000 or fill out our online contact form to set up a quick appointment. From easy scheduling to affordable treatment options, we’re here to help you every step along the way.