Heel pain is by far one of the most common problems treated by the podiatrists in our team. And given the forces placed on the heels with every step all day every day by children, adults and older adults alike, it’s really no surprise. What is surprising is some of the misconceptions we hear about heel pain – and there are plenty! So in case you’ve heard one of these myths, or have some questions about your heel pain or why it keeps coming back or isn’t getting better, we’ve put together a myths and FAQs section on heel pain for you today using some common questions straight from the clinic.
“I’ve always had weak ankles, even as a child. There’s nothing I can do to stop them from spraining”
While having weak and unstable ankles is a very real problem, believing that nothing can be done about them just because you’ve noticed weakness over the course of many years (or a lifetime) is in fact a big myth. Just like how a person can decide in their 50’s to start working on building muscle and grow stronger, you can strengthen your ankles at any age, too.
There are many approaches to preventing ankle sprains that we can discuss with you based on your unique circumstances. While rehab and exercises is one approach, there is also:
- Your shoes – which can have a big influence on your ankle stability and sprain risk
- Custom foot orthotics (insoles) – which can have in-built features that add stability to your ankle and reduce the risk of a sprain
- Strapping – we can show you various strapping techniques that you can use at home to give you instant support during high-impact activities like sports games or when going for a hike
- Braces – and other devices to support ankle stability and reduce your sprains risk
- Foot mobilisation therapy – to address any restrictions in your foot or ankle that may be contributing to your recurrent sprains
- Neurokinetic therapy – to assess your dysfunctional movement patterns that may be contributing to recurrent sprains
Simply put, having weak ankles or a history of ankle sprains or ankle pain does not mean that there is nothing that can be done to help. Most often there are a wide range of ways to support you, improve your ankle strength, and help prevent painful ankle sprains.
“At this stage we’re just waiting for his growing pains to settle”
This is one that we often hear from parents who were informed by either health professionals or well-meaning friends or family that nothing can be done to help growing pains. As a result, many people believe that growing pains are just a natural stage that each child must pass through, missing out on sports seasons and sitting on the sidelines until the “growing” is done and the pains subside. Unfortunately, this is also the biggest myth and we deeply feel for any child that has been forced to sit on the sidelines and simply wait.
Growing pains at the heels is known as Sever’s disease, a condition where the growth plates at the heels are inflamed. Like any medical condition, growth plate inflammation has a cause, and by understanding this cause for your child, we can treat it. Most often, the cause is that both the heel bone and the Achilles tendon are lengthening, but at uneven rates. This can lead to the Achilles tendon becoming very tight and pulling on the back of the heel, especially during running sports. This can irritate the vulnerable growth plate at the back of the heel, causing growing pains.
The solution? It will vary slightly for each child based on their unique circumstances, but may look like a custom stretching and strengthening plan for the Achilles tendon, using foot orthotics (insoles) to help their foot posture, using foot mobilisation therapy, or switching to a supportive pair of shoes – often with a slightly higher heel to offload the Achilles.
“I’ve got heel spurs, and I’m not willing to have surgery to have them removed”
The first fallacy and common misconception that we pick up on here is that heel spurs are the cause of heel pain. In 95% of cases – they’re not. We get it – if you have an x-ray that shows a heel spur, it’s only natural to think the two are related – how could an uncomfortable, sharp-looking spur not be the cause of your heel pain? Well, you may be surprised to learn that approximately 1 in 10 people have heel spurs – regardless of whether they have heel pain or not. And of those that do have heel spurs, only 5% are estimated to experience any heel spur-related foot pain, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. This means that for most people, whether they have a heel spur or not will be unrelated to their heel pain!
The more likely cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis, the inflammation of a tissue called the plantar fascia which inserts into the bottom of the heel. Research confirms this, with one study showing heel spurs to be a normal variant in the foot and only 3% of heel spurs being located within the plantar fascia, which could mean that it could damage the fascia and produce heel pain. Another study that looked at patients with heel pain in one foot showed that almost half of them had heel spurs in both feet, while 39% had no heel spurs in either foot. A few even had a heel spur in the opposite foot to the one they were experiencing their pain in.
To sum it up, even if an x-ray has shown that you have a heel spur, it is highly likely that it is not the cause of your heel pain, and you do not need to have surgery to be free of your pain. Our team specialises in non-surgical options that deliver exceptional recovery results – and have a very high success rate in treating plantar fasciitis both with and without the presence of heel spurs.
“I’m prone to getting foot pain. It’s the norm for me, I just put up with it”
It is an absolute fact that some people are more prone to getting foot pain. It’s because their risk of overloading certain joints and tissues in their feet is higher than the average person. This makes them more prone to injury, and hence foot pain. And if you’ve never actively worked to do something about it with an experienced practitioner, then it also makes sense that you’ll get repeated foot pain to the point that you are no longer surprised when it starts. What is false when we hear this is the implication that it’s just the way it is, and nothing can be done to change the outcome.
Our practitioners complete comprehensive assessments to understand why you’re prone to getting foot pain – and then put the right measures in place to both fix your current pain and help keep it gone in the future. Yep – it is very manageable, and pain doesn’t have to be the norm for you. Often, it’s as simple as wearing some custom-made foot orthotics that are designed uniquely for your feet to adjust the posture and function of your feet (and how your tissues are loaded), and pairing this with a good and supportive pair of shoes that is appropriate for your foot type.
“I’ve been rolling my arches on a tennis ball but nothing works to keep the pain gone”
Rolling your feet on a tennis ball or a frozen water bottle is a very popular tip on online forums. While it may help you temporarily manage the symptoms by either stretching the plantar fascia that crosses the arch or essentially by icing the area (from the frozen bottle) that then reduces inflammation and hence pain – you are absolutely right to say that it doesn’t work to keep your heel pain gone – because that’s not what it’s designed to do.
When you have ongoing heel pain, it means that the plantar fascia at the bottom of your foot has become damaged. As a result of the damage, you experience painful symptoms. While managing the symptoms can give you some much-needed relief, it doesn’t fix the problem, much like having a broken arm in a sling can help manage the symptoms but doesn’t fix the actual problem. By all means, roll and use ice if it helps – but make sure you see your podiatrist so you can get started on actually treating and fixing the real issue so you can get rid of your symptoms (like heel pain) for good, fix the problem, and help prevent your heel pain from returning in the future.
“I’ve just got old feet”
Ageing is definitely used to blame a lot of things on these days, and developing heel pain is no exception. Hearing that I’m getting old and that things aren’t working like they used to is common for our podiatrists, which is why we want to set the record straight – just because you and your feet are growing older, does not mean you must live with heel pain. Regardless of your age, treating heel pain is always a case of diagnosing the cause, and then treating it, which is why many of our patients are aged over 50 and still have the same treatment outcomes as their younger counterparts.
“I had a steroid injection, now my pain is worse than before”
This is actually a very real fact that we hear, and we wanted to address why. A corticosteroid injection is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication that can be injected directly into the area of the heel. Once administered, it works quickly to relieve the pain associated with tendons, muscles and ligaments. This is very similar to the anaesthetic your dentist gives you to provide temporary relief while they perform a treatment – except the corticosteroid injection is meant to last for a lot longer. The similarity here is that cortisone injections simply mask the pain, they don’t fix the problem.
This is why cortisone shots are generally not considered as a first-line treatment for heel pain, as they don’t solve the problem, but they do get rid of your symptoms for a period of time. While for some this can bring much-needed relief when suffering from ongoing severe heel pain, for others this can bring disadvantages. The first disadvantage is that because the cortisone masks your symptoms, you may be doing more harm to the plantar fascia while using your feet as normal because you can’t feel the pain and any further damage that is happening. This means that once the injection wears off, you may be in more pain than when you started. The second disadvantage is that repeated cortisone injections can weaken the fascia and make it more prone to rupturing.
While the hope with these injections is that the fascia will have time to heal and repair while the pain is ‘masked’, many people don’t experience this, especially if the cause of the problem is never properly addressed and they continue to apply excess pressure to the heels with every step.
So What’s The Truth About Heel Pain?
Quite simply, heel pain is very treatable when you understand why it has occurred, and focus on addressing the cause – not just managing the symptoms or putting up with it in the hopes that it will resolve on its own.
Starting your journey to be free of heel pain is simple. You’ll be well looked after by the trusted and experienced podiatrists that form part of our team here at Sole Motion. Book your appointment online here or call us on 1300 FX FEET.