It’s estimated that at least 1 in 4 Americans will struggle with heel pain at some point in their lives.
And by “heel pain,” we don’t mean minor, temporary aches after standing in line all day at a theme park. We’re talking chronic pain that takes a week or longer to fully subside and keeps you from doing the things you love in the meantime.
Of course, some of these cases go on a lot longer or keep coming back again and again.
Obviously, it’s in your best interest to avoid that scenario. And fortunately, there are many simple things you can do that can improve your odds of preventing a bad case of heel pain—or at least making minor cases of heel pain more tolerable and quicker to resolve.
One of those simple things is always making sure you wear quality walking shoes that fit comfortably, giving you plenty of cushioning and the right amount of arch support. (Athletes will also want to make sure they have sport-specific shoes as well—we blogged recently about how to find the perfect pair.)
Another simple trick is the one we want to focus on in today’s blog—stretching.
Why Stretching Matters for Feet
Now, the value of stretching out, say, your arms or neck might seem obvious since they have so much freedom of movement. It’s perhaps harder to see why stretching would help pain at the bottom of your heel. But it absolutely does!
The key idea here is that, like any part of the body, there’s a sequence of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints that are all linked together, and must work together successfully to enable smooth and pain-free locomotion.
When you look at the region around the heel specifically, you notice that the (very powerful) calf muscle is linked to the heel via the Achilles tendon, which also connects to the plantar fascia, a fibrous ligament-like band of tissue that runs across the entire bottom of the foot.
This means that tightness, stiffness, and inflammation anywhere along the chain can lead to stiffness and pain in the heels. And, accordingly, stretching these tissues regularly can help you keep them relaxed and resistant to damage and pain.
What Stretches Should You Try?
You can experiment a bit with different stretches, but here are some that we recommend:
- Calf stretches. There are lots of calf stretches that may help your situation, but one of the easiest is simply the standing calf stretch, which targets the gastrocnemius muscle. Stand facing a wall, about an arm’s length away (so you can use it for support.) Step back with one foot, keeping the knee straight but heel on the ground, until you feel a good stretch. (The knee in your front leg will have to bend.) Hold about 15-20 seconds, do 3 sets, and switch sides.
- Toe stretches. These are good for the plantar fascia specifically. Here’s one that’s very simple. While sitting in a chair, extend one leg out in front of you—heel on the floor, toes pointed upward. Reach down and grab the big toe with your hand and pull it back toward you. Hold 15-30 seconds, do 3 sets, and switch sides.
- Towel stretch. Sit on the floor, legs in front of you with knees straight, and wrap a rolled towel under the ball of one of your feet. (A resistance band is a good choice as well, if you have one, but a towel works fine.) Grab the ends of the towel and gently pull back toward yourself. Again, hold 15-30, 3 sets, and switch.
- Arch massage. Sit in a chair, and place a tennis ball, foam roller, water bottle, or other rolling object underneath your feet. Then, just roll your foot back and forth over it, covering the whole arch. Continue for about a minute, then switch feet.
As we said, these are just a few of the stretches you can try. We’d be happy to recommend others at your appointment, depending on your needs.
When Should I Stretch?
As often as you need to!
More realistically, we recommend at least a few times throughout the day, but definitely in these situations:
- In the morning when you get up
- Before any period of time when you will be exercising or on your feet for an extended period of time
- Before you go to bed
Remember that while stretches should feel gently uncomfortable, they should never feel painful. If you are experiencing significant distress from your stretching, discontinue immediately and give us a call.
And if your heel pain continues to persist despite your stretching and footwear considerations, that’s another signal that you may need further treatment options. But don’t worry! With professional care, heel pain can almost always be resolved successfully using conservative measures—and at Kalamazoo Podiatry, we offer a variety of advanced options to help, including custom orthotics and MLS laser therapy.
In other words, heel pain is not something you need to put up with. Actually, let’s go a step further—you shouldn’t put up with it!
If symptoms are keeping you from enjoying your activities, give us a call today. We have two convenient locations to serve you: