"Excruciating" is the word that best describes the pain from bone spurs on the heel and the related condition of plantar fasciitis. This intense burning sensation originates in front of the heel and can spread to the entire sole of the foot as the plantar fascia become progressively more inflamed. Runners and people with high arches are top candidates for this condition, which can also be caused by prolonged standing, being overweight and poorly fitting shoes. Ice and stretching exercises are the first choices for treatment.
What's Happening in Your Soles
Surprisingly, most people don't experience pain from heel spurs alone. The pain comes from inflammation of the plantar fascia, the tough band of tissue that supports the arch and attaches at the front of the heel, which is also the location of the spurs. When the feet build up too much stress and strain, plantar fasciitis sets in. The pain is at its worst with your first steps after awakening in the morning. After a few minutes of walking, however, the pain often subsides, only to return the next time you stand up after sitting at your desk.
Stretch Your Soles
By keeping the plantar fascia limber, you can both relieve the pain and prevent its recurrence. Extend one leg while sitting, loop a towel around the toes and steadily pull back with the towel. You can also cross one leg on the thigh of the other, grasp the toes with your hand and pull into the stretch. For a standing stretch wearing shoes, stand on step or a thick book with your heels hanging over the edge. Slowly lower your heels into a stretch position, hold for 30 seconds and return. A semicircular device that facilitates stretching is available from retailers of foot health products. When you stand on platform of the device and rock backward, you get a deep, smooth stretch in the plantar fascia, Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
Chill Your Soles
Applying ice reduces the inflammation so you can do your stretches and walk more comfortably. Rest your foot on a gel ice pack wrapped in a light towel, or combine icing with light massage and stretching by rolling your arch over a frozen water bottle or chilled can of soda. Do these ice applications for up to 20 minutes, three to four times a day. When your heel pain subsides and you can start working out again, apply ice after your run or training session.
More Ways to Care for Your Soles
Exercises that strengthen feet and ankles, such as rolling your feet from side to side or picking up a towel with your toes, will benefit your arch and heel as well. Footwear is also important. Heel cushions are often recommended, although many people find arch support even more effective because it elevates the plantar fascia to reduce pressure at the attachment point. It may take up to 10 months for stretching, icing and footwear correction to completely resolve plantar fasciitis, but you will see improvement day by day if you persist in caring for your soles.