An average athlete takes 2000 steps in a mile, and in an average 90-minute soccer game a player can take 10,000 steps. This means our feet have to absorb and transfer a significant amount of impacts. Even with the best mechanics, these impacts can take a toll.
A heel contusion or bruise can be a debilitating injury, or simply an annoyance. The calcaneus is a major weight-bearing bone in the ankle, and is our connection to the Earth when standing. If bruised, all weight-bearing activities can be affected.
When in doubt, a referral to a doctor to rule out a stress fracture or heel spur is warranted. When cleared of a fracture, a bone bruise can still take several weeks to fully heal. Basic treatment includes rest and ice. If activity is to be continued, longitudinal arch taping and/or a heel cup can mitigate the painful symptoms produced by impact activities.
Plantar Fasciitis, an inflammation of the plantar fascia stretching from the heel to the forefoot, is a common problem for runners. There is often a complaint of feeling like something is in your shoe, or worse, as if you are walking on broken glass. Inflammation in this area is difficult to resolve.
A good way to break up the inflammation is with a golf ball. While seated, roll the ball under your foot with pressure to tolerance on the effected area using small circles, occasionally moving to new areas of tenderness. For the more sore arch, use a frozen bottle of water in the same manner.
To stretch the plantar fascia, use a dead tennis ball. Place your heel on the ball, roll the ball forward just in front of the heel bone, then compress the ball by shifting your weight onto the ball. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds.
To minimize the tension strain on the plantar fascia, avoid shoes with minimal arch and heel support, especially flip flops. Wear shoes with a built in supportive arch. You can also try an over-the-counter arch support to put in your athletic shoes.
Bruce Valentine is a physical therapist assistant and certified athletic trainer. He’s the program manager for Athletic Training Services at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals’ Sports Medicine Center for Young Athletes.