One of the most common issues any podiatrist treats is heel pain. Some of the reasons explaining this include the fact that feet endure tremendous force loads and two very important connective tissues are anchored to the heel bone (calcaneus). The good news is that conservative care—including stretching on a regular basis—is often quite effective at relieving heel pain.
Before we look at a few of the best stretches to relieve heel pain, let’s discuss the most likely causes of the problem – plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis.
If you have pain in the bottom of your heel, the odds are pretty good you have plantar fasciitis. In this condition, pain is often sharp and most intense when you take your first steps of the day. The pain is caused by an inflamed band of connective tissue running along the bottom of your foot, connecting the heel to the forefoot. This tissue—the plantar fascia—is rather durable, but excessive strain or stress (particularly from overuse) can cause tiny tears in it.
Pain in the back of the heel is typically a case of Achilles tendonitis. Your Achilles tendon connects the base of your calf muscle to the back of your heel bone. This tendon is the largest and strongest in your entire body, but it can become inflamed when either subjected to overuse or sudden, intense bouts of physical activity. The Achilles does weaken over time, so we are more likely to see this injury in middle-aged patients, especially those who lead fairly sedentary lives during the week, but participate in competitive athletic competition (rec leagues, pickup games of basketball, etc.) on the weekends.
There are certainly other sources of heel pain—bursitis, stress fractures, Sever's disease—but the commonality of plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis mean they are simply more likely to be what you are experiencing. The good news is that the right stretches can help to both relieve pain and prevent these conditions from developing in the first place. These stretches include:
- Calf stretches. Stand about an arm’s length in front of a wall and place your palms on it. Take a step forward with your right leg. Keeping your left knee straight and heel on the ground, bend your right leg slowly until you can feel a gentle stretch in your left calf. Hold the position for 20-30 second, release, and then switch legs and repeat.
- Eccentric heel drop. Start by facing a set of stairs and then step up on the bottom stair. Standing on the edge—with only your toes and balls of feet being on the stair, and your heels hanging over the edge—slowly lower both heels down and hold for 10 seconds. Then raise them back up to the starting position. Repeat this 10-15 times.
- Toe stretch. For this stretch, start by sitting in a chair and raising your right leg so the foot rests on the thigh of your left leg. Grab your right foot’s big toe and gently pull it back toward you until you feel a stretch. Once you do, hold the position for 20-30 seconds, and then release. Switch legs and stretch your other one.
Some additional seated exercises that can also help relieve heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis include:
- Roll your affected foot back and forth over a frozen water bottle or a foam roller for about one minute. If both heels are experiencing pain, repeat this activity with your other foot after you are done with the first one.
- Place a folded towel underneath the arches of your feet, grab the ends of the towel, and then gently pull on them so the front of your feet flex up towards you. When you feel a stretch in the bottoms of your feet, hold the position for about 20-30 seconds. Release the tension and then repeat the process two more times.
These stretches are a good starting point for finding relief from heel pain, but you may need a more comprehensive treatment plan. If you want to put your heel pain behind you, come see us here at Foot Specialists of Long Island. Our Nassau County podiatrist office provides professional care for this—and many other common foot and ankle issues—so give us a call at (516) 804-9038 and request your appointment today!