Walking in the great outdoors is a spirit-rejuvenating pleasure, so the last thing we want is to be sidelined by heel pain, one of America’s top foot complaints. Orthotic shoes can help, but if you’re trying to prevent a flare-up from forming, podiatric surgeon Karen Smith, DPM, recommends these tricks to stop pain at the first hint of trouble.
Sleep shortens ligaments that span the bottom of the foot, and getting up triggers the sharp heel and arch pain called plantar fasciitis. “Suddenly, all of your weight is on this ligament, causing microscopic tears,” explains Dr. Smith, author of Killing Heel Pain. The fix: Before getting out of bed, cross one foot over your other leg. Hold your toes and gently bend them backward. Tip: Keep supportive open-back footwear by your bed to slip on and cradle feet first thing.
Stretch on Stairs
Dr. Smith recommends simple stair stretches because they lengthen tight tendons and ligaments, stopping them from pulling on heels. To do: Stand on a stair with heels hanging over the edge. Gently lower your heels and hold for 30 seconds, then rise onto your toes for two seconds. Repeat three to four times a day.
Roll on Cold
Cooling and massaging sore soles by rolling them over a frozen water bottle twice a day calms pain nerves and flushes trapped fluids, Dr. Smith says. Research at Loma Linda University in California suggests 20 minutes of this can ease plantar fasciitis pain by 58 percent.
Untuck Your Sheets
Tucked-in top sheets wedge feet into a pointed position that can make heel pain more acute. “Forceful pointing of the toes is the opposite of stretching the calf muscle,” notes Dr. Smith. Simply loosen sheets to allow feet to flex and keep ligaments and tendons in a naturally elongated position.
Custom orthotic insoles have long been doctors’ go-to for treating heel pain. The downside: They can cost up to $800. Now, a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that stiff $10 orthotic shoe inserts keep foot pain at bay just as well as pricey prescription insoles. View our favorite orthotic insoles here >
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.