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Heel Pain? - It’s NOT Always Plantar Fasciitis

Heel pain is a common complaint amongst our physical therapy clients at Juniper Physical Therapy & Fitness in Manitowoc, WI. When they tell us their backstory, it often includes the infamous foot pain diagnosis, plantar fasciitis. A qualified medical professional has officially diagnosed some; however, most are self-diagnosed.

Understanding the complexity of the foot and how it functions in relation to the rest of the body is critical for proper diagnosis and successful recovery. Although plantar fasciitis is a real possibility, it is just one of many reasons for heel pain.

Plantar fasciitis treatment is very different from other common foot problems. Therefore, a physical therapist who specializes in feet, has a solid background in kinesiology for full body function, and takes a holistic approach will get you the best lasting results. Luckily, we have Dr. Stacey Eck at Juniper Physical Therapy & Fitness. Her years of experience and particular interest in natural foot function elevate her above the rest of the physical therapists in the Manitowoc and Sheboygan area.

Recently, Stacey presented a workshop on feet entitled “Foot Freedom.” She shared her expertise and discussed the most common foot problems that cause heel pain. She reviewed a variety of impairments or conditions that she frequently sees among her heel pain clients. And she provided some foot pain strategies that go beyond plantar fasciitis stretching. Keep reading to learn everything she shared.

Common Foot Problems That Cause Heel Pain

Central Heel Pain

Bottom of heel pain can be a fat pad syndrome, shock absorption issue, or from restrictions in your calf. This type of heel pain typically increases as the day goes on or the more you are on your feet.

SELF-TEST ➡️ It can be differentiated from plantar fasciitis (and heel spurs) by squeezing the perimeter of your heel and pressing into it. If the pain is reduced when you press, it indicates that your symptoms are related to a central heel pain issue vs. plantar fascia.

Intrinsic Muscle Pain

Intrinsics are very important deep foot muscles that stabilize. Irritation or tissue stress to these muscles can present with pain in the arch, similar to plantar fasciitis, but the pain typically worsens as the day progresses.

SELF-TEST ➡️If you have pain when you press into the arch of your foot, pull your toes back. Press again into your arch (keeping your toes pulled back). If the pain is LESS, this indicates an intrinsic foot muscle issue, not plantar fasciitis.

Plantar Fasciitis

Heel pain or foot arch cramps are typically present with the first steps upon waking or after a period of rest. Pain is typically located on the inside edge of the bottom heel and can extend into the mid arch and to the toes.

SELF-TEST ➡️Repeat the same test for intrinsic muscle pain. Plantar fasciitis is likely if you have MORE pain when you press into the arch with your toes pulled back.

Common Body Conditions That Cause Heel Pain

When determining your diagnosis and treatment plan at Juniper Physical Therapy & Fitness, we broaden our perspective by assessing how your entire body functions. We look beyond the painful body part and look for the root cause of your condition. We believe that treating the symptoms is just the beginning. We must figure out the cause or WHY this happened to get lasting results.

The most common root causes of heel pain include:

  • Decreased ankle mobility

  • Decreased big toe extension

  • Weakness in foot intrinsic muscles

  • Reduced shock absorption in the midfoot

  • Weakness in the lower extremities, especially the calves, hips & butt muscles

  • Reduced joint mobility in the rearfoot causing decreased shock absorption at heel strike

Foot Pain Relief & Prevention Strategies

Our recommendations are generalized when we provide foot pain relief strategies to the general public. Foot pain is variable for everyone, and every person’s story is unique. Therefore, depending on your history or current diagnosis, the following strategies may or may not apply to you. Proceed with caution and never continue with any treatment that leads to more pain. Our best recommendation is to give us a call at (920) 320-9838 to make an appointment with Dr. Stacey Eck for a customized treatment plan.

Go barefoot

You have 200,000 nerve endings on the bottom of your feet. Shoes and socks mask what we feel. This lack of sensation affects the strength of your feet and your balance.

Toe Spacers

Simple devices like Stacey’s favorite, The Toe Spacer, help combat stress from modern-day shoes. They can restore natural foot shape and improve circulation and strength.

Toe Yoga

Taking the time to move your toes in various ways improves control of your feet. It brings awareness and wakes up the intrinsic muscles of your feet.

Consider your shoe choices as a huge factor in your overall foot health

Selecting the right shoes for your feet can be an overwhelming process. Thankfully, Stacey has leaned on her studies of the foot to simplify your footwear selection for healthy feet. She has narrowed it down to the “3 F’s” - Foot Shape, Flat, and Flexible. She goes into more detail about this in her free guide entitled “Stacey’s Shoe Recommendations.” Click HERE to get your FREE copy.

Improve Your Foot & Leg Strength & Mobility

Earlier, we mentioned weakness in the feet and legs and limited foot and ankle joint mobility as root causes of heel pain. Undergoing a comprehensive diagnostic physical therapy evaluation will obviously customize a home exercise program for you. However, this blog post, "How To Reduce Your Heel or Foot Pain" contains some video links to exercises to get you started.

Hopefully, this post stirred up some thoughts and gave you some helpful advice to move towards an active life without pain. As always, if you have questions, feel free to email us or give us a call at (920) 320-9838.


Thanks for reading! Interested in a FREE copy of Stacey's Shoe Recommendations? Click HERE to get yours now.


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