The best way to treat painful heels

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Plantar fasciitis, or heel pain, is one of the biggest problems impacting over-60s. Source: Pexels

New research has shown 89 per cent of Australians have suffered from foot pain or other lower limb ailments. The 2018 Foot Health Consumer Survey, conducted jointly by the Australian Podiatry Association and Scholl Australia, found 78 per cent of people don’t prioritise their foot health, while 43 per cent said they suffered from foot pain all the time.

Ambassador for Australian Podiatry Association Christina O’Brien tells Starts at 60 that plantar fasciitis, or heel pain, is one of the biggest problems impacting over-60s when it comes to foot health. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia – the soft tissue at the bottom of the foot – becomes inflamed and pulls on the heel bone and causes pain.

Signs and symptoms of plantar fasciitis

In addition to feeling pain in the heel, there are other signs and changes to look out for.

“If you’re starting to notice change, that’s certainly a good sign that you should investigate it further,” O’Brien says. “It could be pre-empting further issues down the track.”

This could be noticing changes in the wear pattern of a shoe, or if footwear is collapsing a little on one side. Equally, if the heel of a shoe is wearing unevenly, it could be a sign of failing foot posture and an indicator of plantar fasciitis.

It’s also important to know that although feet change with age, pain in the feet isn’t a normal part of the ageing process.

“People come in with plantar fasciitis way too regularly and unfortunately, a lot of people have left it for a long time,” O’Brien says. “There is a misconception that pain is a side effect of activity and it shouldn’t be that way.”

Why it’s best to act quickly

Just as people would visit a dentist if they had a tooth ache or an optometrist if they had an issue with their eyes, people need to see a podiatrist as soon as they begin to notice pain in the foot or heel.

“In regard to heel pain, if you’re waking up with heel pain, go and see someone as soon as you can,” O’Brien recommends. “When we can get onto it quickly, it has the best chance of resolving it quicker than anything any other way.”

While specific treatment will depend on what the root cause of the pain is, podiatrists will assess foot health by conducting a biomechanical assessment. Typically, they look at how the patient walks and also assess whether there’s compensation patterns so they can develop an effective treatment plan. Seeking professional help is also the only way to ensure treatment works specifically for each patient.

Why it’s best to avoid self-treatment

While it’s easy enough to log on to Google and begin treating symptoms at home, it’s not recommended to do this without firstly talking to a podiatrist or health professional.

“Everyone’s feet are so different and sometimes peoples’ feet, their left foot is different from their right,” O’Brien explains. “It can come down to the individual foot sometimes that we have to treat a little bit differently, depending on what’s happening. That’s why we encourage people to see a podiatrist because there’s a lot of information online, but it’s not always suitable for you and it’s not always going to be the appropriate solution.”

In some cases, self-managing plantar fasciitis or other foot issues can make the problem worse. In cases where people use the wrong form of treatment, it can increase pain or even cause irreversible damage. Speaking with an expert will ensure the correct treatment plan is put into place.

Can footwear make a difference?

“Our feet, along with the rest of our body, don’t hold up as well as we get older,” O’Brien says. “It’s hard to cope with sometimes, but we do need to make sure we’re wearing appropriate footwear for all activities.”

While flat shoes or shoes with limited support may not have caused problems in the past, these kinds of footwear could cause damage in the future. Podiatrists will be able to recommend appropriate footwear and shoes to avoid, gentle stretching exercises to reduce pain, as well as prescribing unique insoles or padding for shoes to protect the feet and heels.

“If you’re waking up in the morning and having really bad foot pain, certainly at home, looking at your footwear is important, but really and truly, the most efficient way of treating it is to see a podiatrist to get a comprehensive podiatrist plan,” O’Brien says.

Do you live with foot or heel pain? How do you manage the painful symptoms?

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