Healing Your Heels
by Cristol Smyth, D.Ch.
You wake up, plant both feet on the ground, stand up and then... YEOW! Somebody has shoved a sharp knife into the bottom of your heel, or at least that’s what it feels like. You take a few steps—it still hurts, but not as bad. With your heel still slightly tender you carry on with your morning ritual and sit down for a cup of that much- needed coffee. Then, you get up again. YEOW! There’s that knife again. What is it?
Well, it's most often caused by an inflammation of the fibrous band that maintains the arch of the foot called the plantar fascia (in medical terms the condition is known as plantar fasciitis (fah-shee-eye-tus).
Structural problems in the feet such as flat feet or high arches often result in arch pain and heel pain. Inflammation results as the plantar fascia is pulled away from where it attaches to the bones of your feet, particularly in the heel; this can eventually lead to a heel spur as the body inserts bone into the area in an attempt to repair itself where the plantar fascia is pulling away. Inflammation is made worse by activity, including walking.
Your heel pain may begin as a dull pain in the heel and sometimes in the mid or forefoot. Pain may get sharper, more intense and more persistent over time. The pain is usually at its worst after getting out of bed in the morning or following a prolonged period of rest. Visible swelling may be present in severe cases.
Heel pain has many different causes and may be a symptom of a much larger problem, such as a problem in your back or an old knee injury.
Here are a few things you can do at home:
Icing & Heat
Icing for ten minutes, three times per day and/or using anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation during the initial, acute stage; heat therapy may be effective for chronic, long-standing cases.
Place a towel on the floor. Curl the towel toward you, using only the toes of your injured foot. Resistance can be increased by placing a weight on the end of the towel. Perform this exercise 20 times.
Lift all your toes off the floor and, while keeping your heel on the floor and the outside four toes in the air, tap just the big toe to the floor. Next you will change the order and tap the outside four toes to the floor a number of times while keeping the big toe in the air. Start with 10 taps and work up to 50 taps per session.
Lean against a wall with your back knee locked. Press forward until a stretch is felt in your calf muscle, but do not stretch to the point of pain. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. Repeat three times for each calf.
Lean against a wall. Gradually bend your back knee back until a stretch is felt in your Achilles tendon, but do not stretch to the point of pain. Hold the stretch for 15-30 seconds. Repeat three times for each foot.
As a last resort for rare, extreme cases, a soft-tissue surgical procedure called a plantar fasciotomy may be performed in which a small notch is made in the plantar fascia to relieve stress.
Heel pain has a tendency to worsen over time, or to go away for a short time and return with a vengeance. Many people wait for six months or more before they seek help, trying everything under the sun to get better, only to feel their pain come and go or, in most instances, worsen. Seeking treatment early is the key to preventing this condition from becoming chronic.
Cristol Smyth , D.Ch. is a chiropodist and Co-Owner at We-Fix-U Physiotherapy and Foot Health Centres