Health Alert: Healing the heel

NATIONAL - It's a pain in the foot. Roughly one million visits are made to doctor's offices each year for plantar fasciitis, a type of heel pain.

Plantar fasciitis is at the top of a doctor's list when a patient describes feeling pain as soon as they walk in the morning, but now it's not a stretch to treat the condition successfully.

Debbie Heilig's heel pain spurred her to see a foot doctor, "She took an X-ray and she told me I had, like, a bone spur, but it was plantar faciitis."

Plantar faciitis is a very common condition, with a telltale symptom.

Dr. Judith Baumhauer explains, "You go to step on it and it gives you a "yowchy" pain, I always call it, right at your heel. And what that is is the plantar fascia stretching out relatively acutely when you stand on it."

The plantar fascia is a fibrous connective tissue that stretches across the bottom of the foot. As you rest, the tissue tightens up.

Dr. Baumhauer says, "They'll take 20 or steps, sort of 'yowch, yowch, yowch, yowch, yowch,' and then as they get through that, they'll then ache after that."

A study by Doctor Baumhauer and colleagues finds a specific stretch can help resolve the painful problem.

"A lot of time people would just lean against the wall and stretch their heel cords, and that wasn't enough. And we recognized that the plantar fascia, where it attached, it made better mechanical sense for them to bring their ankles up and their toes all the way up when they did this stretch."

To do the stretch, rest your ankle on your opposite leg and pull your toes toward the shin. Rub your finger along the plantar fascia for a count of ten. Do this at least three times a day.

Dr. Baumhauer, "Do the stretching protocol, 'cause that's going to be the thing that does the trick for them."

About 90 percent of study patients walked easier after sticking with the stretch. And that success has kept Debbie on her toes.

Patients in the study were also advised to buy an over-the-counter arch support, and to use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory pain-killer if they didn't have ulcers or other reasons they couldn't take it.

Posted by Bryce Mursch