It’s easy to think that any type of pain in the body is a problem, but that’s really only partially accurate.
See, any type of pain is “an indication of a problem” in the body.
And that means there are times when pain is actually a good thing. Case in point, if you accidentally put your hand on a heated oven burner, it will be quite painful, right? Well, that pain is the reason you quickly move your hand and avoid further damage to it.
(In fact, an inability to feel pain can be a very concerning situation for diabetic individuals!)
That being said, pain can certainly be problematic in and of itself. After all, pain obviously hurts. More than that, it takes away our ability to do certain things – some of which are quite necessary for various reasons.
One particular kind of pain that tends to be fairly common is heel pain.
As you’ll see, the good news about this problem is that we can certainly provide professional treatment to relieve your pain and give you back your mobility, independence, and options.
Before you reach that point, however, you might want to try some at-home care for your heel pain first.
Why Do You Have Heel Pain?
The starting point for effectively addressing any problem is to understand the root cause.
If you don’t, there’s a good chance you will only address symptoms of the problem – thereby not actually resolving the issue and potentially giving it the chance to continually reemerge.
With that in mind, let’s take a look as to reasons why you might have heel pain.
In a majority (but not all) cases of heel pain, the problem develops in response to an overuse injury sustained by one of the two tissues connected to the heel bone – the Achilles tendon or plantar fascia.
Now, you’ve probably heard of your Achilles tendon—it is, after all, the stuff of legend—but perhaps you’re not quite as familiar with a fascia. Well, this is a thin sheath of connective tissue that can either attach, enclose, stabilize, or separate muscles and other organs.
In the case of your plantar fascia specifically, we are talking about fibrous tissue that attaches the bottom of the heel bone to the bottom of the forefoot.
These respective connective tissues are both fairly durable, but they aren’t infallible! When subjected to excessive strain or overuse, the tendon and/or fascia can be overstretched and tear. This causes inflammation and pain from conditions we know as Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis.
In the case of Achilles tendinitis, the pain is located in the back of the heel and tends to be more intense during physical activity. For plantar fasciitis, the pain is sharp, felt in the bottom of the heel, and strongest with the initial steps following extended periods of rest (and especially in the morning following a night’s sleep).
There are other causes of heel pain, of course, but an overwhelming majority of cases are from either of those two conditions.
At-Home First Aid for Heel Pain
When you first become aware of an injury causing heel pain, you might need some basic first aid – and especially in cases of heel pain caused by an acute injury.
Whereas chronic conditions are ones that build up over time, an acute injury is more likely to be sustained in a single incident. For example, an Achilles tendon ruptured during a game of basketball that causes pain in the back of the heel.
In these kinds of cases, the very first action needs to be removing yourself from the activity or sport, and then initiating the RICE protocol:
- Rest –Protect the injured heel by taking time to rest and keeping your bodyweight off it. This will help prevent the injury from worsening, while at the same time allowing your body to begin its natural healing processes.
- Ice –Apply an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel (to prevent skin damage) to the affected heel as soon as possible to relieve pain and reduce inflammation in injured soft tissues. Keep the ice on the site of the injury for 15 – 20 minutes at a time, and then repeat every couple of hours.
- Compression –Wrap an elastic wrap tightly—being careful not to wrap it too tight—around the heel. If numbness, tingling, or a change in skin tone develops, you need to loosen the wrap a bit.
- Elevation –Keep your injured limb elevated above heart-level to further reduce swelling and inflammation in the injured heel.
Stretches for Both Preventing and Treating Heel Pain
The good news about heel pain is the fact there are some simple measures can reduce the risk of it developing, including taking just a couple of minutes to stretch your lower limbs every day.
At the same time, proper stretches can also be rather beneficial when used as at-home treatment of an existing problem.
Specific stretches you can use to prevent and possibly treat heel pain include:
- Achilles Tendon Stretch –Stand approximately a foot and a half in front of a wall and place your hands on it. Then place your left foot directly behind your right one (so its toes touch the right heel). Keeping your back leg straight, bend your front knee until you feel the stretch in your lower left leg. Hold for 20-30 seconds, and then switch legs. Repeat two more times.
- Eccentric heel drop.While facing the stairs and holding a railing for support, stand on the edge of the bottom step of a staircase. Position yourself so only your toes and ball of foot are on the step. Slowly lower both your heels down and hold for 10 seconds, and then raise back up to the starting position. Repeat this for a total of 10-15 times.
- Plantar Fascia Stretch –Sit barefoot in a chair and place your left foot over your right knee. Using your left hand, gently pull back on your toes until you feel a good stretch along the bottom of your left foot. Hold for 20-30 seconds and then switch feet (and hands). Repeat two more times.
Beyond Stretching – Other At-Home Care for Heel Pain
Stretching exercises are a great way to start—and may turn out to be all the care you need—but it’s certainly possible that you will require additional treatment.
As with other kinds of pain, you might want to consider finding relief via over-the-counter medication. In addition to relieving pain, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen sodium will also reduce inflammation in soft tissues.
If you are going to take OTC medication, it’s best to contact our office for dosage recommendations.
In addition to being a valuable component of basic first aid, icing can also be an essential component in treating existing issues.
Humans have been using cold therapy for ages. The reason for this is simple – because it works.
When you are applying ice to an injured heel, follow the same general procedure outlined in the earlier section on first aid.
Taking it easy for a while and giving your body the chance to heal is often very helpful, but some people have no choice but to be on their feet for extended periods at work. Others lead active lifestyles – and we don’t just mean athletes. Moms who have to chase little ones around all day, for example, might not have much opportunity to stay off their feet!
If you aren’t able to rest as much as some others can, then you can possibly benefit from switching up your footwear and wearing shoes that feature extra arch support and cushioning.
Not sure which types of shoes are going to be best for you and your situation? Come see us and we’ll be glad to help!
Staying Active with Heel Pain
In the event you are normally physically active—and we hope you are! —and don’t want to give up your normal fitness routine, we have some news you will probably like hearing:
You don’t have to be completely inactive if you have heel pain!
Sure, you need to avoid high-impact activities (those featuring running and jumping), but you can still do things like cycling, swimming, yoga, and walking. All of those are considered to be “low-impact” and can be great ways to stay in shape as you heal.
Even after your recovery, you may want to consider keeping some of those activities in your workout program. Cross-training with low-impact exercises can reduce your risk of reinjury. More than that, it can lead to great overall health and fitness.
Along with cross-training, you can use your downtime from running, rec sports, and other high-impact activities to assess your shoe situation.
We don’t mean take the time to make sure you have the latest styles!
Instead, consider the shoes you normally wear for your physical activities. Are they appropriate for the sports and exercises you perform? Do they fit correctly? Do they feature a sturdy heel counter, ample cushioning in the heel area, and robust arch support?
Depending on your answers, you may need to simply switch to shoes.
If you don’t feel comfortable with your answers or have any questions, remember that we are here to help! We want you to stay safe and healthy, and we will be happy to provide the answers you need.
Professional Diagnosis and Treatment for Consummate Heel Pain Relief
At the end of the day, here’s the deal:
You may be able to find relief from your heel pain at home…but the best course of action is to at least come see us for professional diagnosis.
Sure, there’s a decent chance you might have Achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis, but there are other injuries that might require a different approach for treatment. We have the experience and training to provide accurate diagnoses for foot and ankle conditions.
Further, at-home treatment for heel pain might just address the symptoms – without truly resolving the root cause.
That’s not the case when we create a customized treatment plan for you! We carefully evaluate the situation and determine an appropriate path forward, while also taking your goals and lifestyle preferences into consideration.
Remember, early intervention is always best for any medical problem, so contact us today if you have heel pain that is disrupting your life or keeping you from your favorite activities. Simply call our office at (909) 920-0884 and one of our team members will be happy to answer any questions and assist you in scheduling your appointment!