How Athletes Can Attack Heel Pain

Dr. Corey Fox
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Director of Massapequa Podiatry Associates

If you’re an athlete, we know how important performance is to you.

Speed. Power. Endurance. You want to be at top levels when you compete.

We also know all too well that, when a problem begins to rear its ugly head—like heel pain—many athletes tend to shy away from getting the help they need.

What a Catch-22! You have this painful problem hobbling your performance, making rushes down the field or court miserable, but you might be afraid that getting treatment will put you on the sidelines entirely.

We get it; we really do. But when it comes to heel pain and sports, our aim is to have athlete’s back to their full game in as quick and safe a manner as possible.

Sometimes that may require a bit of patience with yourself and your treatment. But the overall, long-lasting results are going to be much better than trying to ignore your pain.

We have some great, pro-level heel pain treatments that keep an athlete’s performance in mind. Before we go into them, though, let’s take a look at some general causes of heel pain and conservative ways to address them.

Sports Injuries

The Wide World of Heel Pain

Although pain in the heels sounds like a simple symptom, it can stem from a wide variety of causes.

Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and stress fractures are common problems athletes face. There’s also Sever’s disease, tarsal tunnel syndrome, bursitis, and others to consider, though.

Many cases of heel pain in athletes can be traced back to overuse. Did you really start ramping up your training, recently? Did practice switch up to twice or three-times a week? Did you throw yourself into a new routine all at once without building up to it?

When you engage in new activity too intensely, or ramp up familiar activity too severely, your body sometimes isn’t ready for it. The result is often inflammation, stress fractures, or other types of injury.

(There is always the possibility of more severe injuries such as full fractures and tendon tears, too. It’s pretty safe to say you won’t be wanting to hold off care for those, though.)

Heel Pain in Sporting Kids

Active children can suffer from many of the same causes of heel pain above, but there’s another condition that is common to them: Sever’s disease (also known as calcaneal apophysitis).

It may sound complex, but Sever’s disease is just a condition that can come as part of growing up. The tendons connected to the growing heel bone can grow tight as they try to catch up with changes, causing some inflammation and pain.

Sever’s disease often happens in children ages 8-15. Rest is typically best for treating this temporary condition, but it is still best to have your child examined to make sure there are no extra causes for concern.

Conservative Treatments and Prevention

You might not like to hear this, but rest is often a necessary means of recovering from certain forms of heel pain.

But does that mean you must spend a week on the couch doing nothing? Not necessarily!

While you will likely have to reduce certain activities to allow time to recover, other activities can be introduced to stay moving in the meantime. Swimming and cycling are often good, low-impact exercises, and other forms of cross-training can be applied based on your needs and situation.

Physical therapy and stretching regimens may also be recommended, both as an aid to healing and a means of preventing further problems in the future.

A problem in your gait might also be making you more likely to suffer from heel pain. If that’s the case, we might recommend custom orthotics for use in your athletic and/or general footwear.

You might be surprised at how much more comfortable these can make you feel. They can even inspire confidence and improve performance!

Heel Pain

More Advanced Heel Pain Treatments

If you’ve read up on sports medicine, you might have two alarm bells ringing in your head: NO SURGERY and NO STEROID INJECTIONS!

And you would be right to have concerns about these methods as they relate to an athletic career.

Surgery never leaves the body quite as it originally was. While plenty can be done to regain strength and optimal function, it still presents risks to an athlete.

Cortisone injections for tendon inflammation also come with the risk of weakening healthy tendon tissue over continued use. This weakening can increase the chance of a tendon rupture, especially in more active patients.

So when considering treatments for athletes, we don’t want to consider these options unless they are absolutely necessary.

Fortunately, other state-of-the-art treatment options exist.

  • Tenex – This treatment for tendon inflammation uses a needle tip that vibrates at an ultrasound frequency. This can be pinpointed to gently break down damaged tendon tissue without affecting the healthy tissue around it. This aids the body’s natural healing process with no need for surgery and no stitches.
     
  • Amniovo – This treatment also encourages the body’s own healing factors through amniotic growth factors. This material is taken from placenta lining following healthy births (no harm whatsoever to mother or child) and processed in a way that can be injected into the site of an injury. This has been an effective treatment in professional sports and has become more widespread outside the leagues.
     
  • Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) – Another alternative to surgery, ESWT uses high-energy soundwaves to stimulate damaged cells. This stimulation increases blood flow to the area and increases cellular metabolism. It’s like adding more workers and speed to a construction project.

These are not the only options that are on the table for heel pain treatment. We will take the time to fully examine not just your problem, but your history, lifestyle, and needs as well. From all this information, we’ll discuss our recommendations and answer any questions you might have.

Whether you’re a high school star or basking in a big-league spotlight, we know how important the right approach to treatment can be for an athlete. Give our Massapequa office a call at (877) 674-7422 and get started on the path to recovery.

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