By Rehan Iqbal
It is very common for athletes, active individuals and senior citizens to experience all sorts of foot pain, especially heel pain. Luckily, this sort of problem can often be alleviated by custom, or even over-the-counter (OTC) orthotics. So, can orthotics help with heel pain? Yes, orthotics can help alleviate heel pain, but they cannot cure it.
When looking for OTC orthotics for heel pain, you have a number of choices. You may be able to address your problem with a full shoe insert that provides a deep heel cup and good arch support. Soft, cushioning heel pads may also be helpful. In some cases, a heel sleeve that provides compression and cushioning for the entire heel and the arch of your foot may be just what you need.
Keep in mind that you may need to invest in several different types of support and orthotics for different types of shoes. For example, high quality sport socks that offer extra cushioning on the sole and compression arch support may be all you need when wearing good quality sport or walking shoes.
On the other hand, if you are wearing leather dress shoes with no support, you may need to invest in a very firm, supportive, full foot insert that provides a deep heel cup and good cushioning throughout.
The importance of wearing good quality shoes in good condition cannot be stressed enough. Even with good orthotics for heel pain, a poorly fitted, low quality or worn out pair of shoes can cause stress, damage and pain.
What Causes Heel Pain?
There are many reasons why heel pain might develop. Overuse, poorly fitted footwear, high heels, injury and age are all common causes of this problem. Heel pain is generally the result of wear and tear of the tendons and ligaments that support the arches and heels. Excessive pressure on the heels will also result in heel pain.
Plantar Fasciitis Is A Very Common Cause Of Heel Pain
It is very common for people to develop Plantar Fasciitis as they age. This is just the result of long use of the plantar fascia, which is the strong band of tissue that runs lengthwise from heel to forefoot and provides support for the mid-foot and arch area of the foot.
When the plantar fascia becomes worn, tiny tears result. This causes irritation and inflammation. This may be a natural result of aging and long use, or it may be the result of lots of vigorous sport and impact, such as running and jumping.
If you have plantar fasciitis, you can experience heel pain any time or all the time; however, you are most likely to feel it when you first arise in the morning or after you have been sitting for a while. When you get up and move around, the plantar fascia will become more flexible and less painful. That’s why it’s a good idea to take a few moments to stretch and massage your feet if you’ve been off them for a while.
Heel Spurs Can Cause Heel Pain
Sometimes, when you have plantar fasciitis, small, bony growths may develop on the undersides and edges of the calcaneous (heel bone). This is a result of calcium buildup, which is a response to the friction and pressure of a compromised plantar fascia.
Very often, these deposits do not cause pain, but sometimes they can cause a sensation akin to constantly walking on a pebble. It may be hard to identify heel spurs, and it may be necessary to x-ray the foot to get a positive diagnosis. Even so, sometimes heel spurs can become so large that you can feel them with your fingertips when you massage the skin of your heel.
It is important to note that plantar warts can cause a similar sensation.
Haglund’s Deformity Is Another Sort Of Painful Heel Bump
If you wear shoes that have high, stiff backs, you may experience a painful heel bump called Haglund’s deformity. This is caused by constant pressure and may result in painful bursitis in the heel bursa, which is a fluid filled sac that cushions and lubricates the joints.
Calcaneal Stress Fractures Cause Heel Pain
This sort of heel pain exhibits as an increasingly worsening pain whenever you engage in activities or even walk on hard surfaces for an extended period of time. It may be caused by a single hard impact on the heels (e.g. jumping from a great height) or repeated wear and tear (e.g. standing/walking on hard surfaces with poor footwear over extended periods of time.)
Nerve Entrapment Can Cause Heel Pain
If you feel tingling, burning or numbness along with your heel pain, your problem may be caused by a pinched nerve. For example, if you are experiencing medial mid-foot heel pain, it may be caused by the compression of your posterior tibial nerve. This is tarsal tunnel syndrome, which is often caused by extended weight bearing (e.g. carrying large loads or being overweight.)
Heel Pad Syndrome Causes Heel Pain
This syndrome feels like a continuous, deep bruise in the center of the heel.
Problems With The Achilles Tendon Can Cause Heel Pain
Your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel bone. Overuse of the Achilles tendon (tendinopathy), inflammation (tendonitis), or a rupture can cause heel pain. It is important to clearly identify these problems and seek professional treatment, which may involve exercise, physical therapy and possibly even surgery.
Posterior heel pain can also be attributed to a Haglund deformity, a prominence of the calcaneous that may cause bursa inflammation between the calcaneous and Achilles tendon, or to Sever disease, a Calcaneal Apophysitis in children.
These are just a few of the common causes of heel pain, and it is worth noting that any and all of them may be exacerbated by the presence of arthritis. If you are unable to find relief from heel pain through use of OTC orthotics, it is very important to see your doctor and get a specific diagnosis. To continue to try to treat the condition without knowing what it is would just be throwing good money after bad.
How Can Orthotics Help With Heel Pain?
Heel pain is a very common presenting symptom in clinics, and there are many causes. Once a proper diagnosis has been made, use of orthotics can often completely resolve the problem. The right orthotics can help with heel pain by providing good support for your feet while reducing pressure points around the heel. Good orthotics also help by retraining your feet and the muscles of your lower legs to work properly, thereby eliminating pressure points.
You may be able to find OTC orthotics that are just right for you, or it may be necessary to have custom orthotics made. These days, with so many choices available in ready-made supports and shoe inserts, you are very likely to be able to find just what you need quite affordably. It’s always a good idea to give this approach a try before seeking custom orthotics because custom versions are very costly, and often users say they do not really help much and end up going back to OTC versions.