Pain in your heel—whether in the bottom or the back—is a real bummer. When your heels hurt, favorite activities lose their appeal. The pain can make it difficult to even do the mundane, day-to-day tasks you simply need to do.
The proverbial silver lining to this dark gray cloud is that conservative care is very effective in treating common sources of heel pain. When that pain is the bottom of the heel, you likely have plantar fasciitis. Pain in the back of the heel is often insertional Achilles tendinitis. Both of these stem from damaged soft tissue. They also both benefit from stretches.
Not the Most Glamorous Treatment (But It Gets the Job Done)
With regard to lower limb injuries, the Achilles tendon is—warning: clever Anchorman reference coming up—“kind of a big deal.” This particular structure is involved in about 60% of all lower limb problems. That can be attributed to the fact our body’s nature is to shorten the Achilles as much as possible.
We know stretching is boring, but it is by far the most effective form of treatment for many issues in the lower limbs. Keeping the connective tissues flexible, like the Achilles tendon, is just a really smart way to avoid injury in the first place. If you are working out, running, or participating in any kind of athletic activity, make sure you take the time to warm up and perform some dynamic stretches before and after activity.
When it comes to stretching as a form of treatment, you should block off some time throughout your day for stretches like eccentric heel drops. (Those are not “eccentric” like your Aunt Judy who believes her cat is Elvis Presley reincarnated.)
Both the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon are strong tissues. As such, they do not stretch easily. Accordingly, a regular stretching program is needed for maximum flexibility.
Make Time to Stretch... and Call Your Parents
If you feel like you don’t have time to stretch, a stretching brace can be particularly beneficial. Stretching braces are even more beneficial when used in conjunction with a stretching program. They’re best used as a supplement to—and not a replacement for—stretching. If resolving your heel pain is something that is important to you, you can usually find time to stretch (just saying…).
So what is a stretching brace? Well, these devices create an upward force at the ankle and foot. You may have heard them called night splints but very few people could get through the entire night with them on so the new nickname is “TV splint." It is very important that the braces go above the knee for optimal effectiveness. They are typically one-size-fits-all devices, so you needn’t worry about getting the wrong size.
When using stretching braces, you will need to spend at least one hour per leg, but you can do both at the same time for convenience. Need something to do during that hour of immobility? You can read a book, watch a show, meditate, read my blog…
Stretching: It's for Life
For adults, you can expect to start experiencing improved flexibility in about 1-2 months. Children tend to be more limber and their flexibility starts improving in roughly 10-14 days.
Once the pain is managed and under control, stretching and stretching braces are needed less often. Pain is the great motivator and when comfort returns, that doesn’t mean you should stop your stretching routine. On the contrary, this is the time to be vigilant in making sure the condition doesn't return. As noted earlier, your body’s natural tendency is to shorten the Achilles tendon, so you need to keep it limber.
After showing a patient our stretching program, I am frequently asked how long they will have to stretch. My answer is “As long as you want to be without pain.” Once you stop stretching, the tissue will start to tighten up and eventually will return the pain
Speaking of staying limber, a great form of exercise for both flexibility and strength is yoga. If you are looking for a low-impact activity to supplement high-impact ones like running, you should consider taking up this practice. If you do, we recommend checking out Peace Through Yoga. They offer classes, workshops, and retreats, and you can find their studios in Zionsville, Speedway, and Danville.
Professional Heel Pain Care
Remember, if you are experiencing foot issues, including heel pain, your body is telling you something’s wrong and needs to be addressed. Come see your go-to foot doc for the professional treatment you need. Contact us online today or request your appointment by calling (317) 545-0505.