Heel pain is the most common of all foot complaints. An estimated 4 million people in the USA suffer from heel pain.
Most people experience pain in the heel with their first steps in the morning, after getting out of bed. It is presented by a sharp stabbing pain at the bottom or front of the heel bone. In most cases, heel pain is more severe following periods of inactivity (e.g. early in the morning or after sitting for a long period).
The pain will diminish throughout the day as the nerves and tissue adjust themselves and become accustomed to the inflamed area. However, after longer periods of inactivity (e.g. sitting at home or driving) heel pain will return stronger and sharper.
What causes heel pain?
The most common cause of heel pain is a medical condition called "Plantar Fasciitis". This is Latin for "inflammation of Plantar Fascia". The Plantar Fascia is the flat band of fibrous tissue under the foot that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot.
Due to factors such as weight-gain, age and incorrect foot function (ie. over-pronation) the plantar fascia are stretched out excessively with every step we take. Consequently, the ligament starts to pull away from its weakest point: i.e. where the fascia inserts into the heel bone (calcaneus).
This constant tension leads to micro-tearing of the tissue and inflammation at the attachment of the plantar fascia and heel bone, causing heel pain. During rest (e.g. when you're asleep or sitting), the plantar fascia tightens and shortens. When getting up body weight is rapidly applied to the foot and the fascia must stretch and quickly lengthen, causing micro-tearing in the fascia. Hence, the stabbing pain with your first steps in the morning or after sitting for a while.
Because of the continuous pulling of the fascia at the heel bone, the body eventually responds by developing a bony growth on the heel bone. This is called a Heel Spur or Calcaneal spur. The spur itself doesn't cause any pain, it's merely a symptom.
Over-stretching of the Plantar Fascia is more likely to happen if:
- you suffer from over-pronation (lowering of the arch when the foot lands)
- you stand/walk on hard surfaces for long periods (because of your job)
- you have put on some weight in recent months/years or you are pregnant
- the muscles and tendons in your feet and legs are tight
- you are over 45
Treatment options for Heel Pain
Today various treatment solutions are available, some more effective than others. Common treatments include:
- Cortisone-steroid injections.
- Shockwave therapy
- Massage therapy, acupuncture etc
How orthotics help with heel pain
Orthotics are corrective foot devices that support the arches and re-align the ankles and lower legs. Many of us have quite normal-looking arches when sitting or even standing. However, it is the impact of walking (and running) that has an effect on the arch and ligaments in the foot. With every step we take the arches lower, placing tension on the plantar fascia, which leads to inflammation at the heel bone. Orthotics support the arches and reduce the tension on the plantar fascia, thereby allowing the inflamed tissue to heal.
To be effective, for most people the orthotic needn't be an expensive, custom-made device... A comprehensive Heel Pain study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society found that by wearing standard orthotics and doing a number of daily exercises, 95% of patients experienced substantial, lasting relief from their heel pain symptoms! Other Heel Pain studies have also shown the benefits of orthotics and exercises in the treatment of heel problems.
Developed by Australian podiatrists, FootActive orthotics support the arches and greatly reduce the tension on the plantar fascia, treating the cause of of heel problems. Plus, a shock-absorbing heel pad helps reduce the impact on the painful heel, providing added relief and walking comfort.