Nearly 40% of Americans have suffered from heel pain. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of foot pain but a lesser-known condition is called heel pad atrophy, which might also be to blame.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by inflammation of the fascia, the tough tissue that wraps around your heel and extends forward to the base of the toes. The inflammation occurs when there's excessive stretching where the fascia attaches to the heel bone.
There is a thick wedge of fat in each heel that works like a shock absorber. It can wear down over time which then causes heel pad atrophy. There is also a fat pad under the ball of your foot. It can also wear down and cause pain but it mostly occurs in women who regularly wear high heels.
If you have plantar fasciitis, the pain is most severe when you take a step after being off your feet, such as when you get out of bed or standing up after sitting for a long time. Once you start walking, the fascia stretches and the pain usually subsides. Heel pad atrophy becomes more painful the more you walk or place weight on your heel. The pain subsides usually when the heel is cushioned.
Plantar fasciitis hurts more towards the inside of your foot, around the heel. Heel pad atrophy is very focused in the center of the heel. People that experience this often feel intense pain when they push on the foot's center.
Plantar fasciitis can happen for many reasons. It can be caused by weight gain, worn-out shoes, increased exercise, and walking in barefeet(socks). With heel pad atrophy, the fat pad just wears down with age.
Plantar fasciitis will usually go away in less than a year if you avoid the activities that irritate the area. The tissue will stretch out and become looser over time thus decreasing inflammation. Placing cushioned arch supports in your shoes can speed up the heeling process and help avoid a recurrence. Icing the area and using anti-inflammatory drugs (Aleve, Advil etc.) can help as well. However, the best thing you can do is stretch the affected foot. Try this stretch:
1. Cross the leg with the painful foot over the other leg
2. Hold the painful foot and pull the toes back toward your shin. This will create tension in the arch of the foot. It should feel taut and firm, like a guitar string.
3. Hold the stretch for a count of 10. One set is 10 reps.
4. Do at least 3 sets of stretches a day. You can't do the stretch too often.
Easing heel pad atrophy is easier. Place a gel-type heel cusion (or full-foot gel pad if the pain is centered on the ball of your foot) in each of your shoes.
Whatever you do, don't ignore the pain or problem because it will only take that much longer to get rid of it and keep you from doing activities that you love to do.