Why these 7 lifestyle choices can lead to heel discomfort
Annie Zaleski, for Dr. Marco Ucciferri, Summit Medical Group
Foot pain is one of the most common orthopedic ailments a person can experience.
In fact, a 2014 survey by the American Podiatric Medical Association showed that 77% of U.S. adults reported having foot pain.
Heel pain in particular is a very common subset of foot pain that can also affect things like day-to-day mobility or the ability to exercise.
Although heel pain can be caused by discrete medical issues — especially plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the tissue that supports the foot’s arch, which affects around 2 million people per year — there are many lifestyle-related reasons why people develop this type of discomfort.
Here are seven surprising causes of heel pain.
1. Wearing shoes that don’t fit properly — or are the wrong size
It goes without saying that wearing shoes that pinch your feet or cramp your toes is quite uncomfortable.
However, continuing to sport footwear that’s the wrong size — or simply doesn’t fit properly — can have damaging long-term effects.
Wearing shoes that are too tight can throw off your gait, which could lead to unexpected pressure on your heels or cause issues such as muscle cramps or plantar fasciitis.
2. Choosing footwear that doesn’t offer enough support
Heel pain often occurs because the foot is allowed to pronate, or roll inward, which puts strain on the heel and its associated tendons and ligaments.
This type of stress can be prevented by wearing shoes that have proper ankle and/or arch support.
Different kinds of footwear, though, offer varying degrees of cushioning and structure. For example, flip-flops offer almost no support and have even been shown in studies to potentially cause harmful changes in the way someone walks.
Wearing shoes that have wobbly bases or worn-out soles and heels can also lead to pain, since they don’t offer the same sturdiness as newer sneakers.
3. Doing high-intensity exercise without taking proper precautions
High-intensity workouts can be tough on the body. It’s easy to aggravate the heel, either due to improper foot support or exercise form, or as a result of repeated impact. Strain from repetitive motion can also cause major heel pain.
Wearing the proper footgear for the kind of exercise you’re doing is especially important. Runners, for instance, need shoes with soles that can absorb the impact of repeatedly colliding with a hard surface.
4. Keeping high heels on for extended periods of time
Experts warn against wearing high heels all day, every day — and there’s a good reason for that. Although these shoes look fashionable, in reality they’re one of the most common culprits of heel pain.
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association’s 2014 survey, 71% of women who owned high heels said the shoes caused them to experience pain.
For starters, wearing high heels can make the Achilles tendons, which link the backs of the heels to the calf muscles, permanently thicker and stiffer.
This is problematic, because experts have found that a tight Achilles tendon can irritate the heel area.
High heels also put stress on the arch’s connective tissue. Too much stretching and tearing can cause plantar fasciitis and also alter a person’s balance and posture, which can lead to stress and soreness.
5. Disregarding proper exercise protocol
Fitness experts have long recommended stretching before and after exercising as a way to prevent muscle strains and pain.
Staying hydrated and not overdoing things — for example, being careful not to push your body beyond what it can handle — are also important.
For people who are prone to heel pain, these guidelines are especially crucial to follow, since they help keep your body in tiptop shape.
6. Carrying excess body weight
Doctors maintain that being overweight can cause multiple health issues.
Obesity in particular can cause serious physical problems, including heel pain, since excess weight can lead to wear and tear on the joints and put extra pressure on sensitive areas.
7. Rarely taking shoes off
Believe it or not, wearing shoes too much in general can cause heel pain.
Taking off your sneakers or dress shoes and giving your feet room to stretch out once you’re home and relaxing is never a bad idea.
If you’re dealing with persistent heel pain, it’s best to book an appointment with a podiatrist, who can help identify the root causes of the discomfort and determine the best course of treatment.
Remedies might include physical therapy, wearing shoe inserts or orthotics, or making different shoe choices.
Heel pain can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. Reaching out and talking to an expert may provide relief, and you’ll also come away with a plan of action that could help you achieve a better, more mobile life.
Looking for an expert in treating heel pain? Make an appointment today with Dr. Marco Ucciferri, who was voted one of the best of the best in the podiatrist category of the 2019 Somerset County Best of the Best reader’s choice list.