What’s Your (Heel Pain) Number?

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Want to hear a scary statistic? According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, each year, about 2 million people seek help for sharp, stabbing arch and heel pain. Sometimes, their discomfort is so bad it even feels like the pain is burning. And, in almost all these cases, there is one common diagnosis: plantar fasciitis. This is a condition that impacts your plantar fascia, that band of tissue which connects your heel to your toes, running across the bottom of your foot and supporting your arch. When the band becomes strained or inflamed, typically as a result of repetitive stress over time, the pain of plantar fasciitis sets in.

Frequently, that pain is bad: according to research in the Journal of Pain, 70 percent of plantar fasciitis patients present with moderate to severe pain; 61 percent feel the pain every day; 54 percent find that their pain keeps them from completing tasks at home and on the job.  Heel pain is a common problem in this country, but we have very effective treatment methods to help you find relief.

Thankfully, heel pain is often treatable with minimally invasive interventions. The key, however, is to get to your podiatrist’s office when the pain first starts to appear. That’s because plantar fasciitis usually begins with mild pain that gets progressively worse if left untreated. So, since we don’t want that to happen, let’s take a look at how I treat your heel pain in my Houston podiatry practice.

Treating Heel Pain at Home and in the Podiatrist's Office

There are plenty of in-office treatments I can provide to alleviate your heel pain. These options include orthotic use, padding and strapping your foot, getting you into a night splint, and prescribing medication to relieve your inflammation. The great news is that, as I suggested, all of these options are non-invasive. And highly effective. 

Do you want even better news? Here are four things you can try at home, between visits, to help alleviate the heel pain of plantar fasciitis:

1) Quadruped Stretch: Get down on all fours, fanning your toes out flat on the floor. Gently lean back and sit on your heels until you feel the stretch between your heel and the balls of your feet. Hold 30 seconds and release. Repeat 3 times.

2) Foot Massage: Massage the bottoms of your feet. Start by pushing down the center of the foot from heel to toes. Then, using circular motions, apply more pressure where you feel the most knots to help relieve tension and improve blood flow to the area. Spend a few minutes on each foot.

3) Isolated Calf Raises: Stand with your left leg forward and your right leg behind you at a distance where your right heel is on the ground and your foot is flat. Lift up onto the ball of your right foot, stretching your foot and calf. Return your foot to the ground. Repeat 10-15 times, switch sides, aiming to complete three sets on each side of the body.

4) Daily Ice Rolls: Stick a full water bottle in your freezer until it is nice and hard. Every night, take it out and roll your foot back and forth over the bottle, for 10 minutes. Daily Aleve or other over-the-counter NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) may also help reduce the pain and inflammation associated with plantar fasciitis. 

Now, if you've tried these at-home treatment options and your heel or heels still hurt, I hope you know what to do. But in case you don't, I'll spell it out one more time. Untreated heel pain will not just go away: it will get progressively worse, often to the point it becomes debilitating. So, if you're dealing with plantar fasciitis and home treatments just aren't doing enough to resolve your pain, go see your podiatrist as soon as possible. 

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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Dr. Andrew Schneider is a podiatrist and foot surgeon at Tanglewood Foot Specialists in Houston, TX.