Woman in pink tennis shoesAs we shelter in place, most of us are stuck at home and unable to participate in many of our usual activities. Without gyms or swimming pools to go to for recreation and exercise many more of us are turning to walking. A great thing with all the lovely weather we’ve been having. Unfortunately, a lot people are calling my office because they’ve suddenly developed heel pain.

During our telemedicine appointments I’m finding that there are three main culprits to this Covid-related problem. People are walking much more than usual. When folks are at home they’re going barefoot more often. And finally, many people are wearing flip flops because the weather has been so nice.

Fortunately, there are a lot of things you can do at home to help with a case of heel pain.

Wear Supportive Tennis Shoes

It’s important to wear supportive tennis shoes or a supportive sandal when walking if you’re experiencing heel pain. To get a better understanding of why people are suddenly developing heel pain, let’s look at how the foot works. To work well, the feet need to bend at the ankle and at the ball of the foot, not in half. Shoes need to support the feet in the same way. They should allow you to bend at the ankle and at the ball of the foot, not in the middle. When the shoe is twisted from side to side it should be fairly firm. The heel counter in the back of the shoe should also be firm.

Instead people have been coming in wearing shoes with mesh and squishy soles. Shoes like that bend in half right with little pressure and can easily twist when wrung out like a rag. This type of shoe provides little support. Instead of the shoe propelling you forward you’re going to spend more time on the heel.

To make sure you’re getting the right support from your shoes, test your shoes to be sure they’re supportive enough.

Instead of Going Barefoot at Home Wear These Sandals Instead

People who are experiencing heel pain or are prone to developing it shouldn’t go barefoot at home. And even flip flops won’t provide you with the support you need. Instead try a shoe or sandal that has some degree of stability. I recommend Crocs, Merrills, Tevas, or Keens.

Reduce Your Inflammation

The pain in heel pain comes from inflammation. Along with all the other tips I provide here, you must do something to bring it down. In the office, I could give you a cortisone shot or provide you with MLS laser therapy. But at home there are some things you can do to treat the inflammation yourself.

First, use Biofreeze. It can provide temporary relief of heel pain.

Ice can also be very beneficial in bringing down the inflammation. Take a water bottle and put it in the freezer. Use is to massage the bottom of your heel while you’re watching television. Use it for 10 minutes and then remove it for 10 minutes and then begin again.

Add Over-the-Counter Shoe Inserts

Finally, adding an over-the-counter insert to the shoe can help prevent your feet from rolling inward or pronating, a problem that can increase your chance of developing heel pain. You might wonder why you’d need to do that with a brand, new pair of expensive tennis shoes. That’s because the insert that’s provided by most shoe companies does not provide sufficient support even if the shoes pass the support test in the video link above.

To demonstrate what I mean, start by taking the insert out of your tennis shoe. When you look inside you’ll notice that it’s totally flat on the bottom of the shoe. Now take the arch support and roll it up from the bottom to the top. If you can easily roll it you’ll understand why it can’t possibly provide the support you need if you have heel pain or you’re prone to it.

The over-the-counter inserts I recommend are Powersteps. These inserts bend at the ball of the foot, not in the middle, and they have a cushioned heel that’s slightly elevated. The combination of these factors can stop you from overpronating relieving stress on your arch. Superfeet are also effective, although Powersteps are little more shock absorbing. Sole Supports are also helpful.

Of course, many people who’ve had heel pain in the past have tried over-the-counter inserts and haven’t gotten much, if any pain relief. If this is true for you, you’ll need to come into the office so I can make you a pair of custom orthotics.

Reduce Your Calf Tightness

The other factor that plays a major role in developing heel pain is tightness of the calf. During two telemedicine appointments, I observed patients walking who also had hard heel strikes and very tight calf muscles. A tight calf doesn’t allow your ankle to bend properly. When that happens the force goes into the foot and adds to the heel pain. It’s imperative to do proper calf stretching to alleviate this problem. Check out our website for more information about how to stretch your calves.

Use a Heel Lift

Finally, a small heel lift can raise your heel just enough to relax the calf muscle temporarily while you’re working to get the inflammation down. I recommend a firm heel lift such as Adjust A Lift. It peels apart to provide you with just the right amount of lift. I usually recommend a quarter of an inch. This along with the over-the-counter supports will likely diminish your heel pain.

Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.
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