6 Ways You’re Hurting Your Heels [What to Do About It]

Feb 13, 2018

We have an epidemic of aching heels in this country. And that’s bad news, because even minor aches and pains can start to gnaw away at your quality of life.

Yet far too many people don’t seek care until the pain becomes unbearable—and may actually be making their heel pain worse with their everyday activity!

Are you contributing to your own heel pain? Read on to learn about some of the biggest heel pain causes and risk factors, and how to delete them from your life.

You love your high heels a little too much

High heels may be more associated with pain in the front of your feet (and especially bunions), but heel pain is another common problem associated with this type of footwear.

There are at least two big reasons for this:

  • High heels aren’t exactly known for their cushioning. As a result, your heels aren’t getting much support when you stand or walk.
  • Frequent high heel use can lead to significantly weakened arches that are less able to handle daily strain. The arches then pull and tear near where they attach to the front of the heel bone.

We recommend that you avoid wearing high heels regularly, and save them for fancier occasions. We also recommend you avoid sky high stilettos, opting instead for heels that are lower (two inches or less) and chunkier.

Actually, now that you think about it, you might not always make the best footwear choices in general

It’s not just high heels that make our naughty list of footwear associated with heel pain. A sampling:

  • Flats can be just as bad as heels, since they usually don’t provide anything in the way of cushioning or arch support. If you wear them, you’ll probably want an appropriate pair of cushioned insoles to match.
  • Many sandals also offer limited arch support, especially flip flops. Make sure you get a pair that’s ergonomic, comfortable, and sticks to your feet. (Floppy sandals usually force you to adapt your walking gait in ways that cause pain throughout the body.)
  • Sturdy work shoes or boots, a requirement with some jobs, can unfortunately contribute to aching heels at the end of the long day. If you fall into this category, again, it might be wise to consider a good pair of orthotics.
  • Your shoes need to fit properly! Shoes that are too tight or too loose can contribute to foot and heel pain. They should also be appropriate for the activities you’ll be performing in them. Your casual loafers might be perfect for the workday, but not for a jog!

Some shopping tips that might be helpful?

  • Always measure both feet before you buy. Feet change shape and get larger as you age, and usually one foot is a little larger than the other. (Obviously, you’re going to want your shoes sized for the larger foot.)
  • Feet also swell slightly due to activity over the course of the day, so if you shop in the evening you’re more likely to fit your feet at their greatest extent.
  • Remember that your socks also have to fit inside those shoes! When trying on shoes, wear socks of the same style and fitness you would intend to wear with them.

You’re always on the go

Now, let’s be clear here. We’re not encouraging you to spend less time exercising and more time on the couch!

But it is true that people with very active hobbies (running, sports, shopping, etc.) or occupations that require them to walk and stand all day will subject their heels to more force. That means you may have to make some modifications to your environment or behavior in order to prevent heel pain.

We’ve already talked a bit about shoes and orthotics, but there are some other tricks to consider:

  • Put down a cushioned rug or mat at your workstation
  • Take regular breaks
  • Take time to wiggle, stretch, or even massage your feet to keep the blood flowing
  • If you run, try running on softer and more level terrain (e.g., dirt trails instead of concrete)
  • Ease into new exercises and activities slowly. Doing too much, too soon can lead to pain.

Your foot and/or leg structure isn’t doing you any favors

It might be helpful here to first explain the “Cliff’s notes” version of how your feet are supposed to function as shock absorbers for your body.

Normally during the course of a complete stride, your heel hits the ground first. As you shift your weight forward, the rest of the foot makes contact, and the arch flexes. This spreads out the impact force over the widest possible area and the greatest possible length of time, lessening the strain on each individual bone, muscle, and joint.

However, not every foot does this equally well. Abnormalities with your gait or foot structure can magnify the pressure and lead to heel pain. Examples might include:

  • Flat arches
  • Unusually high arches
  • Feet that rotate too far inward when bearing weight (overpronation)
  • Leg length discrepancies

Fortunately, most of these abnormalities can be managed with orthotics. These inserts may be accommodative (i.e., they provide additional cushioning or support to accommodate a deficiency) or functional (i.e., they alter the mechanical motion of your stride) in nature. We’ll be sure you get fitted for a pair that will meet your particular needs.

You’re carrying a little more weight than you’d like

A lot of us would like to shed a few pounds to get to our ideal weight and have more energy and self-confidence. You can add “happier heels” to the list of reasons to try to maintain a healthy body weight.

The logic here is simple, but the math might surprise you.

See, it’s not hard to understand that the heavier you are, the more pressure you place on your feet when standing or walking. But you also have to realize that the impact force of a step can actually equal several times your own body weight—and running or jumping increases the force even more.

Because of this relationship, losing just five or ten pounds could reduce the average impact force on your feet by closer to 15-30 pounds—per step.

You’re getting older

Let’s be clear. Heel pain is not caused by aging. It is not “just something you have to deal with as you get older.” We don’t accept those excuses and you shouldn’t either!

That said, there are some reasons that older adults are often more vulnerable to heel pain than younger people. For example:

  • Thinner cushioning in the fatty pad underneath the heel
  • Loss of strength and mass in the muscles that support and move the heel and ankle
  • Tendons and ligaments become stiffer and weaker, making them more likely to strain and tear
  • Wear and tear to the joints over the years (osteoarthritis)

Obviously, you can’t make yourself younger. But you can keep your body in the best shape possible by eating right, exercising, and checking in with your foot doctor at regular intervals. And you can learn to reject all those “getting older” excuses. If it hurts, seek help!

Effective heel pain treatment is just around the corner

With six offices distributed across the Kansas City area, chances are good that a clinic of the Comprehensive Foot Centers is already in your neighborhood. Our doctors specialize in identifying the root causes and condition of your heel pain and reversing it with effective care. More than 95% of cases can be resolved without resorting to surgery.

To book an appointment today, give us a call at (816) 455-1155.