Heel Pain and Winter: A Bad Combo
Heel pain and winter weather. Sure, at first, you might not see how those two things are all that well related. Shouldn’t heel pain be a much greater concern during the summer months?
Well, we certainly do treat a lot of heel pain during the warm season, too. But heel pain can be a big problem all year long, including the dead of winter. In fact, winter weather can pose some unique risks for feet and heels, too!
Do you find that your heel pain is spiking just as the mercury is dropping? Let’s look at some of the most common factors that may be involved.
Lack of Support
For most folks, feet really need to be properly supported and cushioned whenever they’re out and about. The hard, flat surfaces of the modern world are simply too much for arches optimized for softer and more natural terrain.
But in wintertime, you may be spending a lot more time in boots that are designed more with waterproofing and warmth in mind, rather than support and comfort. Over time, this can lead to worsening stress and pain in the heels!
Now, we’re not saying you should sludge through snow, sleet, rain and freezing temperatures in comfy sneakers! Winter boots play an incredibly important purpose, and they are very, very necessary on those handful of days per year that OKC winter gets really nasty.
But at the same time, spending all day walking around in them may not be the best choice either. We’d recommend switching to more comfortable, supportive shoes once you head indoors. And if you need to be outside in boots for a long period of time, and you have a history of heel pain, getting some orthotics for those boots will likely be a huge help.
The Effect of the Cold
If you remember any of your high school science, you might recall that (with the notable exception of water and ice) heat tends to make objects expand, while cold tends to make objects shrink or contract.
This is also true for some of your various biological structures. For example, tendons and other connective tissues exposed to cold tend to lose some of their flexibility and elasticity, making them harder to move and more fragile. Because they contract more, they may also start to “pull” on the joints, the heel bone, or other nerve endings.
Cold weather is also known to aggravate symptoms of conditions that may be related to heel pain in some people, including inflammation, arthritis, and peripheral neuropathy (among others).
For these and other reasons, you should definitely avoid prolonged exposure to the elements without appropriate clothing, and might want to consider not keeping your thermostat artificially low during cold snaps.
The “Weekend Warrior” Effect
Weekend warriors—those who are sedentary during the week but play hard on the weekends—are especially prone to heel pain (and other foot and ankle injuries). Poor conditioning followed by bursts of “too much, too soon” activity is a recipe for disaster.
However, this effect is not exclusive to office workers in summertime. In fact, Oklahoma City winters provide many such opportunities. For example:
- The holiday burst. String together several days of aggressive holiday shopping, parties, or long days in the kitchen, and your heels can easily get worn down.
- Flashes of summer. Here in OKC, we’re used to getting brief mid-winter flashes of unseasonably warm temperatures. In a matter of a few days, we go from freezing to 70 degrees and back again. It’s tempting to go out and run a zillion miles or play a bunch of tennis to take full advantage of the opportunity; but if you’ve spent the last two months barely moving from the couch, you could be biting off a lot more than you can chew.
Always pay attention to your body and listen to what it’s telling you about what it can (and cannot) handle. Try to stay active (at least in small ways) throughout the week, regardless of the weather. And if you know you have a particularly intense burst of activity coming up, make sure you plan it out carefully so you can take plenty of breaks and rest days.
Dry skin that leads to deep, painful heel fissures is especially common during the wintertime. There are several reasons why this is the case, including some of the common culprits like wearing ill-fitting footwear.
One reason you might not realize is the fact that indoor heat tends to be very dry, which can suck the moisture right out of your skin.
Another one? Long, hot showers. We know how great they feel on a chilly morning or evening, but they actually cause your skin to dry out (especially if you don’t moisturize afterward.) Showers that are especially long or hot can strip away layers of moisturizing oils and even damage keratin cells. This reduces your skin’s ability to lock in moisture.
Of course, not all of us go into hibernation when the weather starts getting colder. Many runners find the mild-to-moderate OKC winter temps perfect for going longer and harder, provided conditions are dry. And you’ll find plenty of athletes who find winter the perfect time to join an indoor recreational league, or try season-appropriate activities like ice skating.
We probably don’t need to tell you, of course, that athletic activity always comes with a risk of injury, including heel pain. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it, of course! You should just be aware of the risks and try to limit them by using some good common sense:
- Always wear appropriate, properly fitting sport-specific shoes.
- Keep your body in good condition and work your way up slowly to new activities.
- Warm up and cool down before and after activity.
- Hydrate properly throughout your workout.
- Don’t play if conditions are unsafe.
You get the idea.
Don’t Let Heel Pain Ruin Your Winter
Whether you’ll be traveling, playing sports, enjoying the holidays, or just going about your daily tasks, the last thing you want this winter is heel pain making your life less comfortable and more difficult.
We hope we’ve helped you recognize some potential pitfalls and better prepare for them. But the truth is that sometimes you just need a little more help.
That’s what we’re here for. In fact, we successfully treat patients with heel pain pretty much every day, all year long. And when simple remedies like rest and stretching don’t do the trick, we have more advanced options to help, such as shockwave therapy and custom orthotics.
So if your heels are hurting, you know who to call. You can reach us at (405) 418-2676—or, if you’re a phone-a-phobe, try contacting us online instead. We have offices conveniently located in both OKC and Moore to serve you.
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