A healthy, pain-free heel is often something that people rarely think about. That is until they begin to suffer from such a pain. Unfortunately, this is a fact that too many people know all too well.

According to foot and ankle specialists, they often see 3 to 5 new patients per week with heel related pain. Many of these patients have suffered from this pain for 3 to 6 months before seeking medical attention. The end result is that they are now suffering excruciating pain and can no longer perform the day to day activities they once enjoyed.

This formidable pain is most often caused by a condition called plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is the generally inelastic network of ligaments that maintain the shape of the foot’s arch, originating in the heel and extending to the ball of the foot. When the Achilles tendon (the tendon that runs up the back of the heel) is tighter than normal, it causes biomechanical errors in walking and running that put unnecessary stress on the plantar fascia. This stress causes micro tears in the fascia near the heel, which in turn causes inflammation and pain.

The pain is usually most severe while taking the first steps after waking up in the morning, since the tissues are still stiff. Once the individual begins activity, the tendons and ligaments warm up and become more elastic, which prevents additional micro tears. Tragically, after a rest period of only 30 to 60 minutes, the tissues begin to cool down and tighten, causing the discomfort to reoccur. Therefore, only those patients who are literally on their feet 24/7 can achieve pain relief without treatment.

Luckily, there is a plethora of treatment options that run the gamut from shoe implants and night splints to injections and a surgical procedure that involves releasing the plantar fascia. Usually, two or more of these remedies are used in conjunction with each other to relieve the pain. However, aggressive Achilles tendon stretching is perhaps the most natural regimen since it corrects the initial biomechanical cause of plantar fasciitis. Our research shows that as an individual with plantar fasciitis consistently performs Achilles stretches, their Achilles flexibility goes up and their pain level goes down.

We all know that getting out of bed in the morning can be hard enough without the dread of heel pain. Fortunately, plantar fasciitis can be prevented in most cases by adding Achilles stretches to the end of weekly exercises.

– David A. Porter M.D. PhD

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