Heel Pain

By Dennis Yang

There are two main categories in heel pain; pain beneath the heel and pain behind the heel.  This article is about the pain beneath the heel.

Pain beneath the heel usually comes from 3 causes: tarsal tunnel syndrome, bone spur, or plantar fasciitis.  Tarsal tunnel syndrome is very similar to its better known cousin, carpal tunnel syndrome, in that it involves a compression of the posterior tibial nerve as it passes a confined space in the medial side of the ankle.  The second pathology, bone spur, is a result of very chronic plantar fasciitis, where calcium deposits have formed at the location of stress.  Diagnosing and treating these two conditions is quite an involved process that should be addressed by a professional.  Plantar fasciitis, the most common form of pain beneath the heel, is an inflammation of the connective tissues at the bottom of the foot, and can be treated to a large degree with the exercise described in this article.

Plantar fasciitis is an overuse inflammatory injury from micro-tears of the connective tissues at the origin on the calcaneus (heel bone) from repetitive activities, such as running, jumping, and even walking.  Having flat feet, excessively high arches, knock knees, or wearing worn out footwear all contribute to developing plantar fasciitis.  A characteristic feature of this condition is intense pain during the initial steps upon waking in the morning that gradually improves throughout the day.

The most critical step in treating plantar fasciitis is relaxing the tight connective tissues so that the micro-tearing will no longer continue, and have a chance to heal.  Of all the physical therapy exercises I have experimented with, I have found that stepping on a tennis ball in the midfoot is the most effective.

PlantarFasciitisNote that the tennis ball is not placed under the heel; this will further aggravate the condition.  Rather, it is placed in the middle of the foot in order to maximize the stretching of the connective tissues at the bottom of the foot.

Find the maximum stretch of the connective tissues by adjusting how much weight you put on the tennis ball without causing further pain.  Once you reach this point, stay there for about 2 minutes.  Test by walking around.  If the pain is significantly reduced, this exercise will be a great home remedy for your condition.  If not, the cause of your heel pain is most likely coming from something else.

Perform this exercise several times a day until the pain disappears.  If the pain comes back again and again, seek a professional to figure out where this structural stress is coming from.  Seemingly unrelated issues, such as neck tension and pelvic twist, could be the root cause of your plantar fasciitis.

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