When heel pain becomes an issue, it can be a major disruption to your day-to-day routine, especially if you live a busy, active life. Luckily, there are ways to treat heel pain that can help to get you back on your feet again.
What is heel pain? An inside look
Heel pain is more common than you might think with one in ten of us experiencing prolonged heel pain at least once in our lives. That said, it‘s more common in middle-aged people, those who lead an active lifestyle or who are on their feet a lot. In most cases, heel pain is caused by damage to the plantar fascia,the band of tissue that connects the heel bone with the other bones in the foot. If the plantar fascia comes under strain, it can become weakened, swollen or inflamed, causing pain in the heel of your foot when you stand or walk.
Recognizing heel pain: Don’t ignore the early signs
Whether you work on your feet or you juggle a busy life, our schedules often require a bit of a jog (sometimes even a sprint!) to get through the day. However, if ignored, staying active while suffering from heel pain could lead to long-term damage, which might require expensive medical treatment or physical therapy further down the line. Luckily, there are early steps you can take to prevent heel pain and carry on with your busy life. The first step is knowing what to look out for:
Heel pain usually comes in the form of isolated pain either directly below the heel or just behind it. However, this pain may not be present throughout your entire day. Sometimes it can be triggered by certain movements, such a climbing stairs or standing on your tip-toes. Often, heel pain can occur first thing in the morning when you’ve taken your first steps after a night’s sleep. While this might improve throughout the day, it can reappear after prolonged standing or exercise.
- Uneven Walking
Heel pain often occurs in one heel rather than both. If you find that you are adjusting your walking style, it may be that you are avoiding the pain of putting your weight down fully on a certain foot. While this may relieve the pain, it’s important to examine the reason that you’re adjusting your gait. After all, your feet are strongly connected to your legs and back, and developing an unnatural gait could lead to adverse effects on other parts of your body.
- Tired Feet
Although tired feet are not a direct symptom of heel pain, it may be a sign that you are putting your feet under too much strain, which, of course, can lead to heel pain over time. So, even if you are simply feeling stiffness in your feet after a long day’s work, consider some of the preventative measures listed below so you can keep that spring in your step for years to come.
Taking Steps to Treat and Prevent Heel Pain:
Heel pain is generally considered to be highly treatable especially if detected early, with most people affected making a full recovery. While it’s not the kind of ailment that will go away overnight, with a little patience and a few simple recovery techniques, you could be back to walking, skipping and even running again before you know it.
- Rest Up
As with any part of the body, rest is essential to recovery. Try to minimise the time you spend on your feet throughout the day and give yourself some time to put your feet up in the evenings – it’s always good to have an excuse to re-watch your favourite movies! Some specialists also recommend applying ice to ease the pain.
- Stretch it Out
Your daily commute may not feel like a work-out, but it’s important to stretch out before getting on with your day-to-day activities. Exercises to stretch out your calves and the area beneath your feet should help you warm up, improve flexibility and speed up recovery time. Why not look at our Foot Gymnastics feature for nine steps to stretch out and restore flexibility to your feet.
You may have a spring in your step now, but heel pain can pop up at any time, so it might be a good idea to be prepared to avoid any problems in the future:
- Stay Supported
It’s important to wear footwear that keeps your arches supported, helping to prevent strain and acting as a shock absorber when your feet impact the ground. Changing your footwear regularly is a good idea, and it’s better to avoid shoes which are completely flat with no heel support. For more advice on choosing the right shoes to support your feet, check out our feature on how incorrect shoes can lead to heel pain.
- Try Insoles for Extra Support
When you’re not keeping them up on the sofa, it’s important that your feet get the additional support they need throughout the day. Scholl GelActiv Everyday Insoles can help to keep you comfortable all day long while you get on with your everyday activities. If you work on your feet, you may consider the Gel Activ Work range, specially designed for long-lasting support to get you through the working day. And for those of you who spend your days and nights in high heels, there’s new GelActiv Insoles for Her, especially designed to give your high heels a sneaker feel. Remember, if you are concerned that your heel pain is becoming severe, it’s important to speak to an orthotic specialist.
- Light on your Feet
Think of the distances your feet carry you in a year. For every mile we walk our arches bear between 200,000 and 300,000 pounds of stress. Minimising this pressure we put on our feet can help to prevent the risk of heel pain. This could mean maintaining a healthy weight by staying active and choosing a healthy, balanced diet. It could also mean lightening the load you carry with you every day. For instance, if you are a student, keeping your heavy books in a locker overnight rather than carrying them home every evening will help to lighten your daily load.
- Smart Sport
When we run, the pressure of our bodyweight on our feet multiplies by up to seven times! As with everyday shoes, it’s important to choose trainers which offer adequate support and cushioning against the impact of the ground. Depending on how you like to stay fit, there are different shoes designed to suit different activities, so talk to a specialist before picking out your next pair of trainers. Insoles, like Scholl GelActiv Sport Insoles, are a great way of adding extra support and cushioning to your sport shoes, helping you to work out for longer and to avoid heel pain throughout. Finally, it’s important to consider the kinds of surfaces you choose, for example, when jogging or playing football. Hard concrete can be quite harsh on your feet, compared to grass or indoor flooring.
Curbing your Heel Pain
While heel pain can be a nuisance, with a little patience and a few lifestyle adjustments most people make a full recovery without the need for invasive medical treatment. Be sure to speak to your doctor if your symptoms become sever or disruptive, remember to keep an eye out for early warning signs, and take preventative measures even if you aren’t currently experiencing any pain. Whether you plan on running a marathon in the near future, or you simply need to get from A to B, take good care of your feet and they will support you for years to come.
*It is important to speak to your doctor if your heel pain becomes severe or disruptive.
 Scott, A.S. and Fong, E. (2015). Body Structures & Functions, Chapter 6, pp98