Your choice of shoes can matter a lot, and not just in a stylistic sense. The qualities of your footwear can also impact the effects that heel pain-causing conditions such as plantar fasciitis have on your comfort.
While footwear is not always the sole cause of plantar fasciitis (or any other form of heel pain), most people spend so many hours in them that it’s certainly worth taking measures to ensure they are doing as little as they can to exacerbate any problems.
And the best shoes to treat or prevent plantar fasciitis tend to be good choices for general foot health, too. So even if your shoes aren’t having that great of an effect on your plantar fasciitis, making smart footwear choices will still benefit your feet overall in the long run.
What should you look for? We have a few simple tips to keep in mind next time you go shoe shopping.
What We’re Trying to Prevent
Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, and it concerns a thick band of tissue called the plantar fascia. This band runs from the base of the toes and connects to the heel bone, helping to form the arch of the foot along the way. The plantar fascia is often in motion, flexing as you move and helping store and release energy as you go.
When the plantar fascia experiences too much stress or strain, however, it can become aggravated or inflamed, and even develop tiny tears. This tends to cause pain in the bottom of the foot toward the heel, which is often worse in the morning or after any long period of inactivity.
The plantar fascia can become overstrained in different ways. Our goals with shoe selection will be to address them as best as possible.
With the plantar fascia playing such a big role in the arch, it is only natural that good arch support should be a top-ranking qualification for any shoe.
Do not confuse arch support for cushioning, however. Cushioning is not a bad thing, but having only cushioning is not providing full support. Good arch support should be felt fully through all parts of your arch, without any areas of high pressure or discomfort. This will provide direct support to the foot as well as help reduce overpronation, or excessive rolling of your foot as you walk. Both effects can play significant roles in reducing strain on the plantar fascia.
A Deep and Firm Heel Counter
The heel cup is the area of the back of the shoe that “hugs” the bottom and back of the heel.
Much like arch support, a supportive heel counter will help keep the foot in control within the shoe, reducing excess stretching of the plantar fascia. It needs to be firm enough to not yield easily.
You can easily test the firmness of a heel counter by grasping the back of the heel of a shoe and squeezing. If it easily gives, it’s not as supportive as you need.
A Reasonable Heel-Toe Drop
A good shoe should have a slightly raised heel. In other words, where your heel rests should be a little higher than where your toes are. That’s the heel-toe drop.
Why? Having a little elevation helps take excess pressure off both the arch, but also the Achilles tendon. Since the Achilles tendon is connected to the heel bone, excess pressure caused by it can also affect the plantar fascia.
However, having too high of a heel can be hazardous. The higher the heel is, the more that pressure is forced toward the front of the foot. We do not want that. But if you go toward the opposite extreme and live in completely flat shoes (like ballet slippers or flip-flops), you should expect plenty of stress on the arch and heel.
A good heel height for everyday shoes might be around a quarter to half an inch. If you wear high heels for special occasions, a good rule of thumb is to keep it at 2 inches or lower.
Cushioning in the Midfoot
We did say that cushioning was still important. Cushioning in the midsole of a shoe will help lessen impacts on the heel during movement, every time your foot hits the ground. And since we tend to exist on many hard surfaces throughout our days, it’s a good idea to have that barrier.
A thick, cushioned midsole – or even a rocker bottom style of shoe – can be helpful in reducing stress.
Your Own Comfort
Whatever qualities a shoe may possess, they are not going to help you much if you are not actually comfortable wearing it.
Discomfort almost always leads to greater pain and further problems. Either something about the shoe is straining your foot, or the discomfort itself will cause a change in the way you walk (even if you don’t realize it), which will then lead to stress where it’s not needed.
Make sure any shoe you try fits properly and feels good on your foot before you buy, no matter what it is.
Let’s Get to the Root of Your Heel Pain
While shoe choices can be a major help in treating heel pain, they may not be the only way you need to address the problem. The best and most effective treatment plan comes from identifying the sources of your pain and recommending the best methods for alleviating each one.
This might include custom orthotics for more exact levels of cushioning and support or stretching exercises to better condition vulnerable elements of the feet. In some cases, we might even recommend MLS laser therapy for pain relief and faster recovery. In the most severe cases, surgery might be a consideration.
Whatever the best plan for your plantar fasciitis might be, do not delay in seeking thorough care. The sooner you do, the sooner your heel pain can be a memory.
Schedule an appointment at our Medford office by calling (541) 776-3338.