Heel pain can be a common problem in athletes of all ages and activity levels. The most common cause of heel pain is inflammation of the plantar fascia.
The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of tissue that runs from your toes and attaches to your heel bone, known as the calcaneous, creating the arch of your foot. When the band is irritated, it becomes weak, swollen and inflamed, causing a condition called plantar fasciitis.
You may notice most soreness with your first step out of bed in the morning. This usually lessens as you take a few steps, but then find as you perform more weight-bearing activities, such as standing or walking on hard surfaces throughout the day, the pain returns.
Having excessive pronation, or feet that roll in when walking, flat feet and high arches all can contribute to the problem. A sudden gain in weight or being overweight adds more pressure the arch of the foot, causing aggravation.
Take a look at your shoes. Are they old, worn out and not properly fitting anymore? This also can put additional stress, leading to plantar fasciitis.
There are some things you can try to alleviate the pain and inflammation. First, modify your exercise by stopping the activity that is causing the pain. Try taking up a non-weight-bearing activity such as swimming or biking.
If you are limping, you should use crutches. It is important to have a normal gait pattern to prevent further pain or injury to other areas.
Add a heel pad and/or arch supports to a well-fitted pair of shoes.
Avoid walking in your bare feet. Put a pair of sneakers at your bedside, so that when you wake in the morning, you slip into supportive shoes rather than enduring those first painful steps.
Stretching the calf muscles and Achilles tendon regularly is helpful for relief of the tight fascia.
Apply ice to the area for 15 to 20 minutes. You even can try freezing a bottle of water and rolling it under the arch of the foot and heel, creating icing and massage in one step.
If symptoms persist after several weeks of home treatment, seek help from your sports medicine doctor. Here they can obtain X-rays and rule out heel spurs, which can be common in a chronic case of plantar fasciitis. They also may suggest further testing to rule out a stress fracture.
It may be recommended to expedite decreasing inflammation by try using an oral or injected anti-inflammatory medication. In some cases, they may recommend night splints to keep the foot in a flexed position, not allowing the tissues to become tight during sleep.
How soon until you can get back to activity? Depending on when you start treating the problem, you can expect to have a decrease in pain in a few weeks, but it can take several months to a year for the pain to complete disappear.
Prevent plantar fasciitis by gradually increasing the intensity of weight-bearing exercise, always wear a good pair of shoes, be consistent with your stretching and maintain a healthy weight.
Veldhuis is a clinical athletic trainer at Susquehanna Health Sports Medicine Center.