9 Great Treatment Options for Heel Pain
Heel pain can be more complicated than you might think. Some cases go away with just a little TLC at home. Others linger and get worse over time, making daily tasks miserable (if not impossible).
There are a handful of different clinical diagnoses that can be responsible—plantar fasciitis, nerve pain, tendinitis, arthritis, etc.—and even more potential root causes. Shoes. Activities. Foot alignment.
But of course, at the end of the day, we know that there’s only one thing that really matters: “Can you fix it, doc?”
Yes, we can.
Although every pair of heels is different—and some cases take a little more time and effort to finally fix—almost every instance of heel pain can be alleviated non-surgically, with a little bit of professional help where necessary.
Here are 9 treatment options—including 4 you can start right away at home, and 5 more we can help you with should the need arise.
The Basics: Home Care
Consider these your “first aid” options for heel pain. You can begin them right away at home, as soon as you notice pain creeping in.
No, we’re not talking about the kind of rice you put inside your burrito. In medical speak, RICE is an acronym that stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
Let’s break it down quickly so you know what we mean:
- We’re not suggesting that you stay in bed all day. But we are saying that, for at least a few days, you should avoid the kinds of strenuous activities that are likely to cause pain.
- Ice your painful heel for about 20-30 minutes at a time, up to four times per day. If you don’t have a proper ice pack, you can use a bag of ice or even frozen veggies, as long as you aren’t putting it directly on your skin. (Wrap in a thin towel first.)
- Light compression on the painful area can help control pain and swelling. You can pick up a pair of compression socks, or even just wrap the heel using physical therapy tape.
- Hoist your feet up—above chest level if you can—when you sit or sleep. This is good for swelling and blood flow.
Consider the possibility that poor footwear may have contributed to your heel pain. Have you been wearing blown-out sneakers that lost their cushioning months ago? Playing sports in the wrong style of shoe? Spending a lot of time in high heels, or flimsy sandals, or any other shoes that don’t fit right or don’t offer much support?
Often times, poor footwear is a significant contributing factor to heel pain. So making smarter choices with what you put on your feet can make a difference in both the short and long term.
You can take an over-the-counter painkiller like ibuprofen to temporarily manage your discomfort, provided you know you can take them safely and follow the dosage instructions on the label carefully. However, don’t continue taking them for days on end if they are not helping or your situation is not improving.
Gently stretch your feet, arches, ankles, and calves several times per day. This can help you lessen the pain by relaxing tight tissues that are pulling and tearing on the heel. Giving yourself a quick foot massage can also be very helpful—it feels good and gets the blood flowing to the injured area.
The Next Step: Professional Treatment
So let’s say your home care isn’t working. You switched your shoes. You’re using RICE therapy. But the pain isn’t going away. Maybe it’s even getting worse.
If pain persists for a week or longer—or if, at any point, it gets to the point where it’s causing you serious distress—it’s time to get the professionals involved.
At Foot & Ankle Center of Oklahoma, we provide a wide array of effective treatment options, including some advanced therapies for the toughest cases of pain. Surgery, we’re pleased to report, is almost never necessary—even if you’ve been suffering for months or years.
(But that doesn’t mean you should delay treatment!)
If the pain can’t be managed through over-the-counter medications, we may instead provide a corticosteroid shot or prescribe something stronger. We use an ultrasound to guide the injections exactly where they need to go, which maximizes the safety and effectiveness of the procedure.
This should not be abused—shots can improve symptoms, but they do not trigger healing and too many of them can weaken the soft tissues around the heel. However, a steroid injection can provide quick relief from pain in the short term while we pursue additional treatment avenues.
Although basic home stretches are helpful, your condition may require a more focused program of specific stretches and exercises designed to address the fundamental cause of your heel pain. We might also recommend physical therapy tools such as night splints or taping.
Night splints in particular can be effective for plantar fasciitis, because they keep your plantar fascia ligament in an elongated position while you sleep. This prevents it from tensing up, and reduces the pain you feel when you take that first step in the morning.
Extracorporeal pulse activation therapy (EPAT)
Commonly called “shockwave therapy,” this is one of the state-of-the-art options available at our practice for the really tough instances of chronic pain, including heel pain.
EPAT doesn’t just focus on the symptoms of pain, but actually triggers and accelerates your own natural healing processes. The tool delivers pulses of sonic energy that penetrate deep into damaged muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The shockwaves break up scar tissue and create “microtraumas,” which the body rushes to fix by forming new blood vessels, boosting metabolism, and promoting cellular regeneration.
EPAT is a great choice for severe cases of heel pain (even as an alternative to surgery), as well as athletes or workers who need the fastest possible recovery. It’s safe, non-invasive, generally painless (or causes only very mild discomfort), and it typically requires only a handful of brief sessions (30 minutes or less) over a few weeks.
Poor foot structure is an underlying factor in a high percentage of heel pain cases. If the imbalance is fairly mild, simply getting a good pair of shoes (as we mentioned earlier) with a lot of cushioning and support can accommodate it.
However, more serious structural issues with feet may need a little extra assistance than what a typical shoe can provide. In these situations, we’ll fit you with a pair of orthotics. Depending on your needs, we may recommend an appropriate off-the-shelf insole, or fit you for a pair of custom orthotics.
Get Serious About Your Heel Pain
There’s no reason to allow heel pain to hold you back. We can help you get rid of your discomfort, so you can get back to enjoying pain-free, active living.
If you’ve tried the home care treatments in this blog and haven’t gotten the relief you need, give us a call today at (405) 418-2676.
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