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3 Steps to Stop Heel Pain in Its Tracks

Your Personal PT , Rachel Tavel, is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), so she knows how to get your body back on track when it’s out of line. In this weekly series, she gives you tips on how to feel better, get stronger, and train smarter.

How to Handle Heel Pain
How to Handle Heel Pain

When every step is painful, youre going to look down to figure out whats up.

Heel pain can be extremely uncomfortable. You might feel like a sharp object is poking into the heel of your foot while youre walking, or even a constant dull, stiff, and tight ache. Either way, if you dont get rid of the pain quickly, it may limit the amount of time you spend on your feet.

One common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the proximal attachment of the plantar fasciaa broad band of tissue that extends from the heel of your foot (the calcaneus) to the row of metatarsal bones just before your toes. This band of fascia tightens when you plantarflex or point/stand/push off on your toes, creating a rigid lever through a biomechanical model called the windlass mechanism. This softens when the feet are flat, supporting the structures in the foot but allowing more mobility between the joints.

According to , 1 in 10 people are affected by plantar fasciitis. If you fall into this category, you are definitely not alone. While you may feel pain in the foot, plantar fasciitis is often due to other problems such as hard, unsupportive footwear (avoid flat, hard soled shoes), tight posterior chain musculture (everything from your hamstrings to your calf muscles ultimately leading to tightness through the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia), or proximal (hip/core) weakness leading to poor body mechanics and improper loading of the foot and ankle.

Plantar fasciitis usually develops gradually, and can be common in people with relatively flat feet, poor/flat-soled footwear, or in anyone with weak or tight calves. Repeated loading of this fascia through dynamic activities such as walking or more fast-paced sports can overload the attachment point and cause pain and inflammation at the heel. Classic symptoms include pain that is worse with the first steps in the morning or when walking barefoot on a hard floor.

Your Move :

  1. Roll it out – For some immediate relief, try using a lacrosse ball (or frozen water bottle, if theres acute pain) to massage the tissue at the bottom of your foot. But dont stop there. Be sure to get up into your calf muscles with a foam roller, as well. Spend about 5 minutes rolling out the foot and calf to help reduce tone in these areas.
  2. Stretch it out – Try stretching not just the hamstrings and calves (knees bent and knees straight), but also the big toe.
  3. Load it up – Eccentric loading of the calf muscles is one of the best ways to strengthen the calves while reducing pain due to plantar fasciitis. Try two up one down: Stand holding onto a counter top. Go up on both toes. Take one foot away so youre balancing on the toes of one foot (the affected side). Then slowly, with control, lower that heel to the ground. Repeat this (going up on 2 feet, down on 1) for 2 sets of 20 off the edge of a step if you can.
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