Beware of those cute summer sandals. They may cause foot pain and other serious problems.
Flip-flops, slingbacks and mules may be fashionable warm-weather footwear, but they may be putting your feet at risk of heel pain. That’s because your heel may become tender or swollen from wearing shoes with poor support or shock absorption.
Think about it. It’s your heel that absorbs the shock of your foot striking the ground as you put your foot down to walk, and it is your heel that springs you back for your next step.
Connecting the heel bone to the toes, the plantar fascia ligament helps you balance your foot as you walk, taking a lot of stress in the process.
When the plantar fascia ligament becomes painful and inflamed, a condition known as plantar fasciitis may be present.
“My advice is to do things in moderation, including wearing flip-flops,” said Cameron Barr, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in disorders of the foot and ankle at Scripps Clinic Torrey Pines.
“If you wear flip-flops every day, you are more vulnerable to getting plantar fasciitis because they are too flat. Any heel that is too high is not good for you either. Both can also make you vulnerable to an ankle sprain,” Dr. Barr said.
Individuals with plantar fasciitis experience the most severe pain when they first get out of bed in the morning, making the first few steps of the day an agonizing experience.
Other symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain after standing or sitting for a while, climbing stairs, walking, running or playing a sport where there is a lot of jumping, such as basketball. The pain may develop slowly over time, or come on suddenly after intense activity.
Extra bone may sometimes form at the site of the inflamed plantar fascia attachment, producing a small spur that is common in patients with plantar fasciitis, but the spur itself is not the cause of the heel pain.
Heel pain is caused primarily by stress in the tissue of the heel. Plantar fasciitis is the most common type of heel pain but there are other causes, including swelling and pain in the Achilles tendon, swelling of the fluid-filled sac at the back of the heel bone under the Achilles tendon or even a fracture of the heel bone that is related to landing very hard on your heel from a fall. Imaging can help identify the problem.
Your doctor will often recommend these first steps first:
- Acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce pain and inflammation
- Heel and foot stretching exercises
- Night splints to wear while sleeping to stretch the foot
- Resting as much as possible for at least a week
- Wearing shoes with good support and cushions
You can also apply ice to the painful area. Do this at least twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes, more often in the first couple of days.
If these treatments don’t work, your doctor may recommend wearing a boot cast for three to six weeks or custom-made shoe inserts.
So if you feel your trendy summer footwear slapping against your heels as you step, treat your heels to some cushiony pads for protection. Also, give your heels a rest sometimes by wearing a more structured and supportive shoe.
Non-surgical treatment almost always improves the pain. Only rarely is surgery recommended as a treatment for heel pain.