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Published on July 12, 2016

Heel pain? Your podiatrist knows best

heel-pain-thumbnail.jpgIf you’re experiencing heel pain, you can try any of a number of over-the-counter remedies. But often it’s a visit to your podiatrist that will provide the best answer to your questions and the real cure for your condition.

Heel pain most often is caused by plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the band of tissue that extends from the heel to the toes.

Often this is the result of faulty structure of the foot, such as being flat-footed or having high arches. Wearing non-supportive footwear on hard surfaces can put extra strain on the plantar fascia, especially if you’re on your feet all day. Overuse and obesity also can contribute to heel pain.

But other factors may be at work too.

"Although plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain - and if symptoms persist despite attempts at self-treatment - you should seek a specialist," said Jennifer Sweet, DPM, of UHS. "Improper shoes are often the culprit, but faulty foot structure can also play a role. A podiatrist can ensure a proper diagnosis and suggest other treatment
approaches."

To arrive at a diagnosis, a podiatrist will get your medical history and examine your foot, and may order diagnostic imaging studies, especially to rule out any other causes of your foot pain.

If plantar fasciitis is diagnosed, you may be encouraged to do the following to start with:

  • Avoid going barefoot so as to not add stress and strain to the plantar fascia.
  • Put an ice back on your heel for 20 minutes several times a day.
  • Do exercises that stretch the calf muscles.
  • Cut down on other physical activities for awhile to give your heel a rest.
  • Wear supportive shoes that have a good arch support and a slightly raised heel that eases stress on the plantar fascia.
  • Take aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation.

If these measures don’t work, other effective healing techniques are available, and all are offered by podiatrists, doctors who are specially trained in the care of the feet.

These include:

  • Taping and strapping the foot can provide support and reduce strain on the plantar fascia.
  • In some cases, a cortisone injection can help.
  • A removable walking cast, used for a few weeks, can keep your foot immobile, allowing it to rest and heal.
  • Physical therapy sessions may help relieve the pain.
  • Using a night splint allows you to maintain an extended stretch of the plantar fascia tissue while you sleep, and you may find that by morning your pain has been reduced.
  • One of the most effective measures is the use of a custom-made orthotic insert, which is tailored to your individual foot and which can realign the bones and tissue of the foot to relieve the strain and reduce or eliminate the pain.
  • Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to one of the nonsurgical treatments described above, surgery may be recommended for a small percentage of patients.

No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for heel pain, the underlying causes that led to the condition may remain or return. So it’s best if you take some preventive measures, such as wearing well-made, supportive shoes, stretching your feet and legs, and using and replacing orthotic inserts as recommended by your foot specialist.

About the provider: Dr. Sweet graduated from the California School of Podiatric Medicine and completed a residency at UHS Hospitals. She is certified by the American Board of Foot & Ankle Surgery. She has an office at UHS Podiatry Chenango Bridge, and in November will be moving to the new UHS Orthopedic Center on the Vestal Parkway.

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