By: Lowell Weil, Jr., DPM
The baseball season, which marks the unofficial start of spring, is finally here. Actually, this year in Chicago, spring has started very early with unprecedented great weather in March. Usually we are still hunkered down with frigid temperatures, hoping and wishing for just a glimpse of spring to arrive. Spring means many things to different people, but to those who take care of feet at the Weil Foot & Ankle Institute, it means the beginning of PLANTAR FASCIITIS SEASON.
Plantar Fasciitis is that annoying pain to the bottom of our feet, particularly in the heels, that grabs us when we get out of bed in the morning or get up from a rested or seated position. Oh, it starts out slowly and we think we just have a heel bruise that will go away, but a month or two later we realize not only has it not gone away, your heel pain has actually gotten slightly worse. Now we are limping a bit in the morning and have cut back on exercise, which is annoying because we know how important exercise is for our overall health.
Why is the onset of plantar fasciitis so prominent in the spring, you ask? The primary reason is that as the weather gets nicer, people want to get out and enjoy it. Gardeners will take to their gardens for priming, pruning, and planting. Runners and walkers will begin more intense workouts embarking on faster times and longer distances. Golfers will hit the links with more vigor, and many of us will simply get out those sandals that we love, which, by the way, don’t offer much support for our feet.
But why do those things cause heel pain? Well, heel pain/plantar fasciitis is most frequently caused from tight calf muscles and heel cords. We get tight calf muscles for several reasons. One reason is that as we get older, we inevitably get less flexible. Another reason is that we rarely stretch regularly, even those of us who do yoga. The tight pull of the calf muscles and heel cords causes stress to the plantar fascia, a tissue on the bottom of the foot that connects to the heel bone. This irritation to the plantar fascia may cause very small tears that result in pain and swelling. When our calf muscles are too tight and we increase our activities, this all results. Soft surfaces such as grass or sand make heel pain/plantar fasciitis worse by causing our heels to sink downward and putting more stress on the tissues. To some degree sandals, flip-flops and bare feet do the same thing and do not provide much support.
So now the question you've been waiting for: What do you do if you start getting heel pain? There are some easy steps you can take to alleviate your heel pain and prevent it from worsening.
- Wear shoes that give more support. A running shoe (I said running shoe, NOT just gym shoe) will provide excellent support and slightly raise the heel to relax the calf muscle. Wearing shoes with a slight heel can really help. Look for something that has 1-1.5 inches of heel.
- Avoid bare feet, slippers, sandals and flats…until your condition gets better. There are some good sandals, here that have support that you may want to try out. There are also arch supports (Orthoheel and Powerstep) that can be purchased on line that are better than what is offered in the pharmacy.
- Increase your stretching. Start stretching your calf muscle 3-4 times a day. See this site for useful stretches.
- Use conservative treatment to alleviate symptoms. Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines (Ibuprofen, Aleve, etc.) as directed on the bottle consistently for a week or so. Putting ice on the area for ten minutes at a time, once or twice a day will also help.
So as spring creates optimism for our typically disappointing baseball teams, don’t let your heel pain get you down. Protect your heels with the steps we’ve mentioned, and if that heel pain persists, come see one of our doctors at the Weil Foot & Ankle Institute. They’ll have you out and enjoying the weather, free of heel pain, before you know it!
Lowell Weil, Jr., DPM, MBA, FACFAS Fellowship Director, Weil Foot & Ankle InstituteTeam Podiatrist, Chicago White Sox
Dr. Weil Jr. has been on the staff of Weil Foot & Ankle Institute since 1996. His special areas of interest are reconstructive foot and ankle surgery, tendon and ligament reconstruction, radiofrequency techniques, Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy and sports medicine.