Heel pain sucks.
I first started having excruciating pain in my left foot at the mere age of 18. I was training for the heptathlon at the University of Tennessee and can clearly remember the morning I got out of bed and couldn’t walk. Track athletes are used to all kinds of aches and pains but this was different. I’d had shin splints, pulled muscles, Achilles tendonitis, and a few other bumps and bruises. But my heel really HURT!
One of my teammates who I was training with also came down with it (misery loves company). Before I knew it, I had the pain in the other foot! We spent hours in the training room with our feet in buckets of ice. If you’ve never tried this before, let me warn you that it feels like your feet are getting smashed with hammers while simultaneously being stabbed by thousands of needles. We also performed exercises to strengthen and stretch our feet, got special tape jobs, and more. We tried orthotics, ultrasound treatments, and more ice. I later tried cortisone injections that worked for only very brief periods of time.
My feet got so bad I had to stop running track and playing all other sports. It was just awful. I was depressed about it for a long time until I came to the realization that the pain in my feet would go away if I simply stopped playing sports. Boy, was I wrong.
Twenty-two years later, guess who still had heel pain? Yours truly. I had a very common condition called plantar fascitiis . It’s caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a thick band of fibrous tissue that attaches to your heel bone (calcaneous) and extends up towards your toes. It sounds like it’s no big deal until you get it and then it makes everything from simply walking around to getting up in the morning a painful experience. If you’ve never had it, count yourself lucky since approximately 1 in 10 people suffer from it.
At 46 years old, I am happy to finally report that I am almost pain-free and have been that way for 6 years now. I say almost because it’s always “ there” but as soon as I feel a twinge of pain, I start my own treatment. Happily (though not 100%) I consider myself cured.
There are a zillion theories on how to treat plantar fascitis, but I’m only going to tell you what finally worked for me. Over the years, I had done a lot of these things independently, but it wasn’t until I put them all together (the 4th tip is critical), that my foot pain finally went away.
- Dig deep into where it hurts the most—and not just your affected foot. Over the years, I had always massaged my foot or gone to massage therapists or physical therapists for treatment. A massage therapist in Chalfont, PA finally pointed out to me that I had been attacking the pain the wrong way. By only addressing the foot, we missed that the real reason why my plantar fascia was so tight—my calves! We treated these huge, painful adhesions in my calves with two treatment of deep tissue massage followed by self treatment. I simply let the weight of my leg break up the adhesions with a foam roller. It’s painful but it’s so worth it. To treat the foot, I use a golf ball to massage the fascia. It breaks up adhesion and loosens up the foot. I keep a golf ball in every room of my house. I even keep one in the passenger seat of our car so I can work on my feet every time we go somewhere.
- Ice. I know I told you how bad it is, but you can do it. The good news is that you only have to do this when it gets really inflamed. If it’s too painful, use a bowl (instead of a bucket) and stick as much of your foot in as you can tolerate. Just fill it with ice and add a little water. Keep your foot in the water for 20 minutes. Ice baths are WAY more effective than ice packs.
- Constantly stretch your calves and feet. Every day.
- Buy these shoe inserts. I had been doing A LOT of the above (massage, ice and stretching) but the pain didn’t dramatically diminish until I bought these inserts. They’re cheap enough to put in a few pairs of your shoes and, to me, were nothing short of a miracle. They have a patented and proven heel bar technology that constantly stretches out the fascia. What was most interesting was how fast they worked for me. Within a matter of a week or two, I had substantially less pain. I haven’t been anywhere without them in 6 years. Their website is Heel That Pain. They also have some great exercise and stretching videos for people with plantar fascitis.
If you or anyone you know suffers or has suffered from heel pain, please send them this article. It will drastically improve their pain. You never know, it just may get rid of it for good.
Stay Loose and Pain-Free,