By LOUISE CARR, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
You’ll be surprised to hear that heel pain is one of the most common complaints in the foot and ankle department.
One in 10 people will develop heel pain, the most common form of which is plantar fasciitis, during their lifetime according to a 2003 study from Virginia Commonwealth University.
A sore heel can occur out of the blue, and pain can last for minutes or even weeks.
Heel pain can be caused by a number of different conditions. The soreness can come from directly under the heel (plantar fasciitis) or right behind it (Achilles tendinitis). Heel pain can be severe and sometimes disabling. Yet it can also, most usually, be treated.
What do you do if you get sore heels? Why does it happen, and are there natural remedies for sore heels?
Sore Heels --- A Common Complaint
The heel bone is the largest bone in the foot and it is designed to provide a tough, rigid support system for the weight of the entire body. The heel absorbs the impact of the foot when you are walking or running.
The stress on the heel when walking can be up to 1.25 times your body weight – 2.75 times when running – so it is not surprising that heels are often painful and damaged.
Heel pain, according to a 2009 study from Reynoldsburg Podiatry Center, LLC, is more common in “middle-aged obese females and young male athletes.”
Heel pain makes up 11 to 15 percent of the foot symptoms requiring professional care amongst adults, according to the study.
What Are the Causes of Heel Pain?
A sore heel is usually caused not by a single injury but by a cumulative wear and tear on the heel. One of the most common reasons for heel pain is something called fat pad atrophy, where the layer of fat beneath the heel bone starts to wear away as you get older due to the strain that is placed on it over the years. Wearing the wrong shoes can accelerate this process.
A sore heel is also caused by inflammation. Either of the ligament that runs from the heel bone to the top of the foot, or in the back of the heel, which is called heel bursitis. This is due to pressure on the sac of fluid at the back of the heel through landing awkwardly or walking in uncomfortable shoes.
Heel bumps are common in teens as the heel bone is still forming. A sore heel can be caused by a stress fracture, or a torn Achilles tendon – which can be slow to heal. And in tarsal tunnel syndrome a large nerve in the back of the foot becomes trapped or compressed.
Less common reasons for a sore heel include gout, Morton's neuroma, osteomyelitis, peripheral neuropathy, gait problems, and rheumatoid arthritis.
What are the Symptoms of Heel Pain?
It is most common to experience heel pain gradually, with no sudden injury. Sometimes heel pain is triggered by wearing flat shows or sandals with no support. In these cases the sore area can extend to the rest of the foot.
In most cases of sore heel, the pain is located beneath the foot, towards the front of the heel. It can be a sharp pain or a dull ache.
Most heel pain wears off by itself but see a doctor if you have severe pain and swelling by the heel, fever, you are unable to walk normally or bend your foot downwards, or if you cannot rise onto your toes.
The American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society says that you should try at least six months of nonsurgical treatment before surgical intervention is considered for sore heel pain. If your heels are painful, take a look at these causes and what you can do about it, naturally.
1. Wearing Bad Shoes Causes Heel Pain in Later Life
Wearing shoes that offer little foot and ankle support is linked to a greater risk of heel and ankle pain in later life, according to a 2009 study from the Institute for Aging Research of Hebrew SeniorLife in Boston, Massachusetts.
Nearly 64 percent of older women who report heel pain regularly wore these kinds of shoes at some point in their lives, according to the researchers who said "we found an increased risk of hind-foot pain among women who wore shoes, such as high-heels or pumps, that lack support and sound structure."
The researchers looked at data from more than 3,300 men and women in the Framingham Study. “Good” shoes like sneakers and trainers were not linked with heel pain, so it is advisable to choose this kind of footwear if you are looking to relieve sore heels.
2. Barefoot Running Can Actually Minimize Sore Heel Pain
Did you know that far from being the more painful option, running barefoot can actually help minimize foot and heel pain?
A 2010 study from Harvard University says that running barefoot is better for the feet as the foot strikes the ground in a way that causes minimal impact collision.
Barefoot runners tend to land on the ball of the foot, which prevents significant impact on the heel. The authors say "most people today think barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain."
However, it is not recommended that you ditch your trainers immediately to get rid of heel pain. The practice should be eased into, according to the experts.
3. Botox to Cure a Sore Heel?
Could Botox be a solution to plantar fasciitis or chronic heel pain?
A 2013 study from the Autonomous University of Nuevo Leon, Mexico says yes. Steroids are often used as a treatment but these cause side effects.
The researchers tested Botox or steroids on a group of 36 patients with painful heels.
After six months, those patients that received Botox treatment experienced significantly greater improvements in pain levels and mobility. Researchers noted that exercises were also useful in helping people recover from heel pain.
4. Early Activity May Be Best for a Sore Heel Caused by Achilles Rupture
2010 research from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) says that gentle motion is necessary after a tendon rupture, which can cause severe heel pain.
Researchers state that it is recommended for patients having surgery “in most cases their ankle should be mobilized and some weight-bearing allowed post-operatively.”
Controlled early motion and weight bearing can help recovery.
5. Does Wheat Grass Juice Help Sore Heels?
Researchers have looked into the power of wheat grass juice to treat plantar fasciitis.
A 2006 study from La Trobe University, Bundoora, Australia looked at 80 people with heel pain and evaluated a topical wheat grass cream for treating the condition.
However, it is not highly recommended as the study showed no discernible differences between treatment with wheat grass and placebo cream in terms of pain reduction.
6. Use Shoe Inserts to Help Ease Sore Heel Pain
Using gel inserts, shock absorbing insoles, and other shoe inserts can help to reduce pain in the heel. A 2011 study from the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil said that inserts did work to reduce heel pain, mainly through the additional support given to the arch of the foot. Shoe inserts are recommended to be worn over a short-term basis to provide pain reduction and improve function.
7. Stretching Works for Minimizing the Pain of Sore Heel
And if you try anything to ease the pain of a sore heel, try stretching.
Many studies have shown the benefits of calf stretching for reducing heel pain. A 2002 study from Methodist Sports Medicine Center, Indianapolis confirms that stretching exercises are “one of the more effective nonsurgical modalities for treatment of painful heel syndrome.”
The researchers say that there is no difference between completing the stretches three times a day for three minutes, or five times a day for 20 seconds. They looked at 94 people with painful heels. .