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The Myths of Heel Pain and How to Treat It

If you're dealing with heel pain, it might not be coming from your shoes. In fact, it's a myth that just because you're wearing strappy heels or sandals, you're harming your feet. Here, Dana Cozzetto, DPM, a podiatrist at Mercy Medical Group, a service of Dignity Health Medical Foundation, shares some insights into the truth behind the most common causes of heel pain.

Your Shoes Aren't Necessarily the Culprit

Whether your shoes are causing your pain really depends on the make, model, and fit of the shoe, Dr. Cozzetto shared. You can find sandals and heels that provide good arch support and are perfectly fine to wear. But how do you know if your shoes are fitted properly?

"The shoe should have enough space between your longest toe and the end of the shoe," Dr. Cozzetto said. "Usually a good rule of thumb is a half-inch or the width of your finger between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Stand up and walk around in the shoes to make sure they are not slipping off in the heel and to make sure the ball of your foot fits into the widest part of the shoe."

What Are Some Causes of Heel Pain?

If your shoes aren't the culprit, Dr. Cozzetto said, the pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including tendinitis, tight calf muscles, a stress fracture, tarsal tunnel syndrome, a bone tumor, reactive or rheumatoid arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, or heel spurs.

One of the first sources of pain you might consider is plantar fasciitis. This is inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot, from your heel to your toes, Dr. Cozzetto explained.

"Symptoms are pain in the heel when getting out of bed in the morning, or when standing after sitting, that usually gets better with moving around or walking," she said. "There are many causes, such as increased activity, weight gain, a tight Achilles tendon, pronation, or standing on hard surfaces, to name a few."

To treat plantar fasciitis, Dr. Cozzetto suggests stretching the calf muscle, stretching the plantar fascia, wearing supportive shoes, or taking anti-inflammatories. If none of these help, you might need a physician to prescribe physical therapy, a night splint, custom orthotics, or injections to help the healing process.

Orthopedic Shoes Can Make a Difference

Yes, on some occasions if your pain doesn't respond to traditional treatment, you might need orthopedic shoes. Certain causes of pain respond well to orthopedic shoes, including diabetic peripheral neuropathy or pain from a deformity. However, not all pain requires orthopedic shoes, which is why visiting a podiatrist is so important.

"If heel pain is not responding to ice, anti-inflammatories, and rest, then I would recommend an appointment with a podiatrist for evaluation," Dr. Cozzetto said.

If you're experiencing heel pain, don't panic. Most heel pain really is curable, as long as you identify the source and get the right treatment. If your pain doesn't resolve within a few weeks, Dr. Cozzetto recommends making an appointment with a podiatrist for further evaluation.

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