How to relieve foot and heel pain

Sports podiatrist Emily Smith gives advice on how to treat foot and heel pain.

Foot and heel pain, or plantar fasciitis, is a common roadblock to an active lifestyle. The classic presentation of plantar fasciitis is pain in the heel and/or arch of the foot, usually first thing in the mornings or after a period of rest. The pain may subside as the foot ‘warms up’, but it can be relentless throughout the day.

To relieve this pain, it helps to have an understanding of what plantar fasciitis is and why it occurs. The plantar fascia is one of the major soft tissue structures under the foot. It acts like a rubber band, lengthening and contracting with foot motion to provide foot stability and support.

If there is abnormal load on the plantar fascia (often from things like significant increase in exercise, poor footwear or poor lower limb mechanics), micro-tears may form, much like if you pull harshly on a rubber band. This can create an inflammatory process leading to pain and debilitation. Over time, it may lead to bone spur growth.

At night or during periods of rest (including sitting behind a desk), the body’s healing mechanisms start the repair process on the micro-tears. However, this fine work is quickly reversed with the first few steps you take, creating a re-tearing effect on the fascia.

“The plantar fascia acts like a rubber band, lengthening and contracting with foot motion to provide foot stability and support.” 

 

How to treat plantar fasciitis

The key is to break the cycle of tear-repair-tear by taking advantage of the body’s ability to repair, and reducing the likelihood of re-tearing.

Here are two things you can try:

1. Roll your foot over a glass bottle (or similar device) first thing before stepping out of bed to stretch and release the plantar fascia. Likewise, keep a frozen water bottle in the freezer at home and at work to massage the arch when eating breakfast, and at any other time when you will be sitting down for long periods. Keep it close and massage before you stand up.

2. Supporting your foot to reduce the load on the fascia is highly recommended. A health professional will help identify the individual factors requiring attention, including stretching, strengthening, training modification, running technique, footwear and poor foot mechanics, potentially requiring orthotics.

Most cases can be resolved with the simple management techniques described above. For cases that don’t respond to these methods, an immobilising aid such as a boot or crutches can be used, and a referral to a sports physician may be appropriate for further assessment and/or injection therapy.

Recommended reading - Managing chronic conditions with diet

Experts

Diabetes shopping tips

How to be savvy in the supermarket and make healthy choices.

Read more
In Brief

Mediterranean diet for diabetes prevention

Filling up on healthy fats favoured in the Mediterranean may help reduce your risk of diabetes.

Read more
In Brief

Top nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables

A new study ranks the top “powerhouse” fruits and veggies, according to their nutrient density score

Read more
Experts

One diet to rule them all

A scientific review paper has sought to answer the question of what is 'the' best diet for health.

Read more
Experts

A diet to fight arthritis

Feeling creaky? Learn how an anti-inflammatory diet can help reduce the symptoms of arthritis.

Read more
Experts

Low FODMAP diet for irritable bowel syndrome

Dr Sue Shepherd explains the origins of the low FODMAP diet.

Read more
Experts

The Paleo diet: pros and cons

Nutrition expert Professor Tim Crowe untangles the fact, fad and fantasy of the popular Paleo diet

Read more
Experts

Diet for type 2 diabetes

How to prevent and manage type 2 diabetes through diet, exercise and lifestyle changes

Read more
Experts

5 reasons not to cut grains from your diet

Fibre-rich whole grains are vital to a balanced diet. Accredited Dietitan Tim Cassettari explains

Read more
Experts

Lower your blood pressure with the DASH diet

Here's what you need to know about the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet

Read more
Experts

The brain-boosting diet

Nourish your brain for better focus, memory and mood with these delicious and nutritious foods.

Read more
Experts

Super-foods!

Your mum was right, eat your greens!

Read more
Experts

Cutting your cancer risk

A diet rich in unprocessed grains and meats, fruits and veggies can reduce your risk of cancer.

Read more
Lifestyle

Bad fad diets

A look at some of the worst fad diets that somehow managed to gain a global following.

Read more
Experts

The truth about gluten

We asked dietician Larina Robinson who can really benefit from a gluten-free diet.

Read more
Experts

Cutting back on caffeine

Giving up caffeine for FebFast? Here’s some expert advice for letting go of your daily brew.

Read more
Lifestyle

8 benefits of cutting back on sugar

From weight loss to healthy skin, there are plenty of reasons to reduce your sugar intake.

Read more
Lifestyle

9 super-easy healthy food swaps

Creating a healthier lifestyle can be as simple as making a few small changes each day.

Read more

For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are instructions on how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.