Suffering from heel pain is bad enough but not knowing what's causing it or how to make it stop just makes it worse! Terms like heel spurs and Plantar Fasciitis (PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis) get used interchangeably but how do you determine what's causing your heel pain?
Define your pain
While nothing replaces a diagnosis from a physician, a few simple questions can help you narrow down your plan of action.
Do you have...
An incredible pain in your heel when you take your first steps in the morning or after getting up from being seated for a while?
A sharp, stabbing heel pain?
A feeling like you are stepping on a small stone?
Heel pain that feels like it's also in your arch?
Pain that subsides after you have walked around for a while?
Any one or even all of these symptoms could indicate plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs don't always cause pain. In fact, they often show up unexpectedly on X-rays taken for some other problem.
So, what's the difference?
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is a broad band of fibrous tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the forefoot. This band connects the heel bone to the toes and creates the arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia which happens when the plantar fascia is overstretched or overused.
With this condition, the pain is felt in the base of the heel and can make even everyday walking difficult.
According to the Mayo Clinic, "about 90 percent of the people who have plantar fasciitis recover with conservative treatments in just a few months. "
The two most important steps you can take to treat plantar fasciitis is to use a quality heel cup in your shoes and to perform targeted stretching exercises designed to maintain good flexibility throughout the interconnective chain of the lower leg. In addition to these treatments, it is recommended that you reduce your activity level when experiencing severe pain and apply ice to the affected area regularly.
What is a Heel Spur?
A heel spur is a sharp bony growth at the front side of the heel bone (Calcaneus). It usually begins on the front of your heel bone and points toward the arch of your foot - without your realizing it.
Heel spurs can cause pain in the back of the foot especially while standing or walking. However, it should be noted that the spur itself is actually not causing any pain. It is the inflamed tissue around the spur that causes pain and discomfort.
Many people who suffer from heel pain are quick to conclude that they have heel spurs but general heel pain as described earlier is much more likely to be Plantar fasciitis. Only an x-ray of the heel bone will prove whether a person has a true heel spur.
Treating a True Heel Spur
In the past, doctors often performed surgery to remove heel spurs, believing them to be the cause of the pain. Most of that pain is now determined to be associated with plantar fasciitis. In treating plantar fasciitis now, doctors rely more on ice, heel cups, arch supports, physical therapy, and pain medications.
Sufferers from heel spurs can find relief by using a quality heel cup or arch support in their shoes. A heel cup will provide extra cushion to the heel and reduce the amount of pressure and shock that your foot experiences. Treating heel spurs can take some time but sufferers who use heel cups, choose sensible shoes, and include stretching and strengthening exercises for the plantar fascia and other surrounding structures such as the Achilles tendon can expect significant pain relief.
Traveling, work, and even your daily routine can take their toll on your body, especially your feet. In fact, the average person takes 8,000 to 10,000 steps a day. That's more than four times the circumference of the globe. All that walking and standing in line can result in tired, aching feet. But it doesn't have to be that way. Your feet are designed to bear weight and absorb shock, but the one thing your feet are not supposed to do is hurt.
Here are 5 easy steps you can take to prevent and relieve foot pain.
Choose Your Shoes Wisely
Technology has come a long way since the invention of sandals and high heels, but we still insist on wearing them regardless of their effect on our feet. As we age, the natural padding on our feet starts to wear away. The right shoes can compensate for this. But the lack of arch support, heel and ball of foot cushioning in dress shoes, high heels, and sandals don't offer this type of support. That's why women suffer from four times as many foot problems as men; lifelong patterns of wearing high heels and standing on their feet all day are often the culprit. So if you want to stop the pain, buy shoes with a low to moderate heel, good arch support, and shock absorbency.
Shopping for shoes is best done in the afternoon as our feet swell a little during the day, and it's best to buy shoes to fit them then. Have your feet measured every time you purchase shoes and do it while you're standing. When you try on shoes, try them on both feet; many people have one foot larger than the other, and it's best to fit the larger one.
Cushion for Comfort
While your choice of shoes is important, sometimes adding some extra cushion, heel and arch support can make all the difference. Depending on the type of shoe you are wearing and where the pain is, you can choose from a variety of heel cups, ball of foot cushions, arch supports and insoles that will ease the pain from standing on your feet all day. There are a number of products designed to fit into everything from a sandal, to a high heel pump to a running shoe so that you can customize the cushion you need for each pair of shoes you own.
Take the Pressure Off
An average day of walking brings a force equal to over 3000 kg to your feet, so taking the pressure off only makes sense. One very simple thing to do to take care of your feet is to take a warm footbath for 10-15 minutes two or three times a week. This will go a long way in keeping the feet relaxed and helping to prevent mild foot pain caused by fatigue. Adding 115 grams of Epsom salts will also help to increase circulation. Taking the time to take regular foot-baths instead of waiting until your feet are aching will give you the most benefit.
Massage Away the Stress
Massaging your feet will help increase blood circulation and decrease stress. Not to mention that it just feels really good. There are many different massage tools out on the market specifically designed for feet. Can't wait to ease the pain? You can simply place a tennis ball on the floor and roll your foot back and forth on it. Remember a massage should not hurt your foot, therefore, be gentle, but apply enough pressure to help decrease any foot pain you may be experiencing.
Our final tip is something that's extremely important but most people simply never think of it...
Your body is made up of an interconnective chain of muscles, tendons and ligaments that all impact each other. This is especially evident when it comes to performance and pain. When everything is in balance movement is painless, almost effortless. But when a link of that chain is weakened or injured, the "domino effect" of that weak link may be greater than you realize.
Have you ever sprained an ankle only to find a week later that you're suffering from lower back pain? Then you've experienced first-hand how weak links put undue stress on stronger ones. Weak muscles cause tighter (stronger) muscles to be recruited by the central nervous system in order to perform the same movement. So your foot pain of today, could end up being a real pain in your back next week.
You can ensure that your feet can go the distance by regularly stretching your hamstrings, calves, plantar fascia and toes. Keeping your calves, hamstrings, and foot muscles flexible and strong will go a long way in helping to avoid aching feet.
Following these simple guidelines should keep everyone from the busiest of world travelers to weekend warriors and all family members from missing a step. Take care of your feet and they will take you wherever you need to go in life.