List: 10 Ways to end your heel / arch pain

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Ten to fix your heel and arch pain

Warning: If your foot is cold or hot to the touch, see a medical provider.  If your foot’s color turns black, blue, or red in color, see a medical provider.  If the pain is so severe that you cannot walk, please see a medical provider.  


Pain is a symptom common to many common foot conditions.  If you are active or have had an ounce of athleticism in your life, you have experienced foot pain of one type or another.  As a practicing physician in the military, I saw this nearly every day in my patients, and I quite often experienced it myself.  My foot pain began in college playing basketball on weekends.  I was no longer an athlete, and my exercise was limited to 1-12 ounce curls during the week.  I wrote this post to give you some ideas how to treat your pain at home.  These solutions are meant for non-traumatic foot pain that was not caused by a specific injury.  If you do not remember how you hurt it, these solutions might be helpful for you.  If you do remember a specific injury, consider seeing a medical professional.  

The cause of the foot pain is typically signified by the location of the pain.  As long at the temperature of your food is not cold or hot, it is not discolored (blue, red, or black), and you did not injure yourself, you should be able to treat yourself at home.  The most common cause of chronic traumatic pain in the bottom of your foot is plantar fasciitis.  Plantar fasciitis occurs when the band of tissue (plantar fascia), that connects your heel to the base of your toes, becomes inflamed.  In a busy, active duty military clinic, I will several a day complaining about its symptoms, and it is especially common in people who jump or run at varying amounts of speed and acceleration.  This type of pain hurts when you begin walking and is particularly bad during the first few steps of the day.  The first miles of your long run can be very painful with this condition.  The most frustrating part of this condition is that it is insidious and can sideline you for months if not properly treated.  The pain is typically sharp in nature.  It may decrease once you get moving throughout the day, but as soon as you start moving again, it often reoccurs.  The condition is very common and affects 15-25% of active Americans.   I would say that 100% of active people will experience it somewhere during your life.  Plantar fasciitis occurs when the band of tissue connecting your heel to your toes becomes inflamed. The good news is most food pain will get better with the right treatment on its own.  

Take a break!  Often pain is natures signal that you need to change up your exercise.  Switch to an exercise that is not weight-bearing like swimming to avoid exacerbating the pain.   This will allow your body to rest and heal as you perform some of the following fixes.  The good news is no matter what the cause of your foot pain, rarely will any of the treatments below make your condition worse, but if it does, you need to see the advice of a medical professional.  Now to the list.  

Man stretching his calf

Man stretching his calf

The list of treatments you can do yourself:

  1. Try an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication.  Naproxen and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can help reduce the pain.  Naproxen is a non-steroidal anti0inflamatory and pain medication and Tylenol is a pure pain medication.  Sometimes the Naproxen works better because it reduces the inflammation of the fasciitis.  Tylenol is less likely to irritate your stomach.  There many OTC medications to choose from and none have been proven to be any better than other but one or more of them may work better for you.
  2. Topical analgesics. So you don’t want to take an oral medication.  No worries because topical over-the-counter pain medications are available in creams, gels, and lotion at your local pharmacy.  These topicals are spread on the skin and penetrate inward to relieve some forms of mild foot pain.  Many of these creams contain agents such as capsaicin (hot pepper oil), eucalyptus, menthol, salicylates (aspirin relative), or turpentine oil.  Some of them block pain and others just distract you from the pain.  I will add one caveat, wash your hands after placing these on your skin and before you touch and sensitive areas (eyes, face, groin).  
  3. Elevate Your Foot.   This method is especially important if there is swelling.  Selling can be the cause of the pain and reduction in swelling can speed recovery.  When you get home, sit down in a comfortable chair, prop your feet up, and relax for twenty minutes.  For the best results, don’t let your spouse catch you with your feet on the furniture or tables.  The ideal method is to elevate your feet at a 45-degree angle to your body with the swollen foot above your heart.  
  4. Stretch your calves.  The plantar fascia is an extension of the Achilles tendon.  Stretching one will stretch the other.  The key is a uniform pressure that slowly causes the calf and fascia to release but avoid bouncing because that will increase the likelihood of injury.
  5. Stretch the fascia.  I know what I just said.  There is a way to focus more on one than the other.   You can also try a therapy ball (I use a tennis or racket ball) to roll in the arch of your foot.  This will also help a little with stretching your calf muscles if you do it vigorously.  I have personally found that using a frozen tennis ball, racket ball, or water bottle.  This will give you cold therapy same time and ice tends to help reduce pain.  If your spouse is squeamish, remember to put the balls and water bottle in a labeled freezer bag or you will get the look if they drink out of the bottle you use to stretch your feet.  
  6. Arch or foot massage.  I am not lucky enough to have a spouse that will do this for me.  I asked once when I was in pain and she said she was not touching my nasty old feet.  You can use baby oil or peppermint essential oil.  I recommend you warm the oil just slightly to improve the effect.  The key is using both hands to work over the whole foot but concentrating on the arches.  The best technique it to press in a circular motion over the bottom of your foot or side slide to side with one thumb firmly. 
  7. Frozen water bottle

    Frozen water bottle

    Ice massage.  Enlist your spouse or a friend to massage the bottom of your feet with a piece of ice frozen in a Dixie cup.  I recommend a smaller cup like the ones for the bathroom.  You can use similar techniques as #6.  Throw the ice away when you are done because refreezing foot ice is nasty.  

  8. Soak your feet hot Epsom salt.  This concept has three functions: it will soften your feet, relieve your pain, and melt your stress away.  Soak your feet in a plastic tube of warm water containing 2 tablespoons of Epsom salts.  I like to follow the soak with peppermint lotion to help tingle away the pain.  
  9. Add insoles.  Adding more padding can reduce the pain and change the angle of your foot strike during running and walking.  The half-insole in each shoe to help keep your foot in place and may increase the angle and reduce the stress on the plantar fascia.  Between the half insole and heel cups, I have had good success reducing my own pain.
  10. Buy new shoes.   Shoes are only meant to last about 300-500 miles.  also, if your shoes do not have enough cushioning or if they are not the right type for your walking and running style, you are more likely to have pain in your knees, feet, and ankles.  I suggest you try the ShoeDog (shoe finder) at Road Runner Sports to be the most helpful.  I personally prefer the Hoka One One brand.  I am not a paid spokesman but I am a satisfied customer.  I have tried all brands and the odd rocker type bottom allows me to be shin splint and plantar fasciitis pain-free.  
  11. Visit a medical provider when: 
    • You have had an injury or trauma.
    • If you have tried list above for 7-10 days without any improvement.  
    • You have pain in your feet wakes you at night.
    • You have pain in your feet that continually increases during the day.
    • You have pain in your feet that makes it impossible for you to walk in the morning and does not improve with stretching.

If these over-the-counter options don’t solve your foot pain problems, your doctor can prescribe a variety of prescription medication and treatment options, as described below.  

Medical treatments from a medical provider:

  1. Physical Therapist  giving  a   leg treatment

    Physical Therapist giving a leg treatment

    Prescription pain medications.  A medical provider can prescribe a variety of pain medications and creams that you can’t buy at your local pharmacy without a prescription.  Not all of them are addictive but make sure you make the medical provider know if you want to avoid medication you might cause a dependency.  

  2. Nerve blocks.  A nerve block is an injection of steroids and/or anesthetic that numbs a particular nerve.  It effectively prevents the pain signals from reaching your brain so technically you do not to feel the pain.  The medications are similar to the lidocaine a dentist might give you.  It’s effective for severe pain or nerve pain.
  3. Corticosteroids.  These are not the hormones that will make you buff.  These medications are related to the hormones produced by the adrenal glands that decrease inflammation and thus relieve pain.  They come in pills, injections, and creams.  An example is hydrocortisone cream you might buy for rashes.  Unfortunately, you will not absorb enough through the skin to kill the pain.  
  4. Physical Therapy.  A physical therapist can give you a prescription treatment plan to maximize your recovery.  
  5. Ultrasound treatments.  Sometimes the inflammation of the fascia is caused by bone spurs.  High-frequency sound waves or ultrasound can be directed at an inflamed area to speed healing, break up the spurs,  and reduce inflammation. 
Warning: If your foot is cold or hot to the touch, see a medical provider.  If your foot is black, blue, or red in color, see a medical provider.  If the pain is so severe that you cannot walk, see a medical provider.  
The bottom line: The most common cause of foot pain in active adults is plantar fasciitis and it is readily treatable at home.  These treatments can help improve your pain but if these home remedies do not work, please see a medical professional.  
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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