You know how they say doctors make the worst patients? Well, I never believed it to be true… until I proved the adage was legit with my own, real-life experience. Over the years I’ve been working as a podiatrist, I’ve treated thousands of patients suffering from heel pain.
And while it’s not always the case, their heel pain is often caused by plantar fasciitis—so this condition is something I literally deal with on a daily basis. Just in case you’re less familiar, here’s what you need to know about plantar fasciitis.
What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?
Every one of us has a band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, which runs from our heels, across the arches of our feet, and into the balls of our feet, all the way to the base of our toes. Plantar fasciitis sets in when this tissue experiences excess strain and becomes inflamed.
If you’re looking for signs that you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis, here’s what to look for: first of all, you’ll have pain—either aching, stabbing or both, depending on the time of day and your current activity level. Your heel pain will commonly occur first thing in the morning, right when you step out of bed, because those first few steps you take will very quickly stretch out the plantar fascia and the collagen that is being laid down as part of your body's healing process. The pain may get better as you go through the day, but it may also pop up to bug you if you get up after spending a long time sitting at your desk, or if you take a long drive and then stand up to get out of your car.
Basically, any time your plantar fascia get a long rest, you’ll likely feel new pain as you begin to put pressure on your feet again, causing stretching and aggravating existing inflammation.
How I Totally Blanked on Addressing My Own Heel Pain
Clearly, I know the signs and symptoms of plantar fasciitis. I mean, I just described them to you pretty clearly, didn’t I? So, you must imagine, if I ever experienced these warning signs of plantar fasciitis, I’d start treatment right away…right?
Well, much as I wish that had been the case, it just wasn’t in the little tale of woe I’m about to share with you. So, as background, I’ll explain that never in my life have I dealt with heel pain personally. It’s just never been an issue for me.
But then, one day, it was, and the pain was bad. In fact, it was so bad, I started to get a little judgmental: if plantar fasciitis is this painful, I wondered, how do so many of my patients ignore the problem for so long, only coming into our Elmhurst podiatry practice after months of discomfort? That would not be me, I vowed. I would get treated right away. After all, I knew, the longer you wait to address heel pain, the worse that pain becomes. And the harder your podiatrist has to work in order to help you get relief.
But…then life happened. I forgot to put myself first (something many people I know are guilty of) and before I knew it, that pain had been lingering. For a while. Actually, for a lot longer than any self-respecting podiatrist should have allowed. Before I knew it, weeks had passed. I was limping and feeling old. Any attempts to treat the pain were intermittent at best: I’d take an anti-inflammatory a few days and then I'd forget. I’d stretch a few times a day for a few days and then forget. And I kept wearing the custom orthotics I always wear, hoping something would change.
And you know what? I probably would have kept going like this, except for my wonderful co-worker, who noticed my limp and gave me a serious talking-to. Finally, I realized, enough was enough. It was time to start treating my own heel pain. And, perhaps not shockingly, that’s when I started feeling better!
How Can I Get Rid of Heel Pain?
So, you must be wondering: how did I finally kick my plantar fasciitis? Well, the answer is: I just followed the treatment protocol I’ve spent years recommending to my patients. So, in case any of you have been ignoring your sore heels for two long, here’s the step by step guide to getting relief.
After coming to my senses, I decided to get a few treatments with our in-house MLS Laser. This type of treatment for heel pain has been shown to reduce swelling, speed up healing and reduce the need for taking anti-inflammatory medications. In using the MLS laser, I was incorporating an advanced non-invasive therapy to address my heel pain. The laser treatments definitely got things going in the right direction. But that didn’t mean my work was done.
I also picked up a stretching splint, and I put it on my foot before getting into bed, and any time I knew I’d be resting for 30 minutes or more. Stretching splints are designed to prevent your feet from relaxing into a pointed position, when we know a 90-degree angle from your leg is where it needs to be when you get back up to walk. This positioning means your plantar fascia get a nice, long stretch while you sleep, instead of tensing up or getting over-stretched while you point your toes or move under the weight of your blankets. Splinting certainly made a difference for me, especially with that pain I was getting right when I stepped out of bed in the morning.
And speaking of stretching, I did a lot more of it: between two and three daily sessions. I focused on three key areas, stretching my calf muscles (when they are tight, your calves can pull on the plantar fascia, causing inflammation or even tiny tears); my toes; and the arches of my feet. I also stuck a water bottle in my freezer and spent a good minute rolling the arch and ball of my feet over it, back and forth, to help relieve some of the inflammation in the area.
Even alongside my laser treatments, I did take a course of prescription strength NSAIDs (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.) because they helped dampen down any inflammation that popped up with my daily activity levels. And, while my results weren’t immediate, by carefully sticking to my heel-pain fighting routine, I was able to bid farewell to plantar fasciitis. Buh-bye, limp…see ya later, pain-laden, shuffling gait!
I still wear my custom orthotics as often as I can and I don't go barefoot at home. Wearing reasonable shoes for any given activity has been part of my life for a long time, so this wasn't anything new, but I believe continuing this also helped.
It’s Never Too Late to Address Heel Pain
Why am I sharing this mildly embarrassing story with you? Because I want you to know: I get where you’re coming from. Maybe you’ve been living with heel pain for quite some time now, and you’re embarrassed to come see me and admit how long you’ve let it go. But, I’ve been there myself, so there’s no reason to keep suffering out of a sense of embarrassment. You could start feeling better right away—all you need to do is schedule an appointment and we can get to work!
So, do as I say and as I finally learned to do…make yourself and your foot health a priority. Don’t spend another day letting heel pain keep you from the comfort you deserve!