When it comes to finding solutions for heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis or spurs, the treatment options can seem endless and confusing.
It’s a double-edged sword: luckily there are plenty of affordable ways you treat your heel pain that can make a huge difference in its severity and duration, but on the flipside, there is no one solution that works for everyone. And to make it more complicated, while one treatment may work temporarily, others can be more effective over the long term.
The most important thing is to take immediate action when you notice heel pain rather than waiting and allowing it to get worse. Here are some remedies ranging from free to $25 to help you on your way to healing.
*Note: now all of these ideas will work for everyone, and some of them simply help manage symptoms of heel pain rather than treating the root cause. It’s important to work with your doctor to create a treatment plan just for you whenever you experience severe or prolonged pain.
Icing is a go-to solution for many types of injuries and ailments. It can help reduce inflammation and pain,
You can ice away heel pain for free by putting ice cubes in a plastic bag and holding it to the bottom of your foot, or invest $19.95 in Ice Therapy Slippers to make the process much easier and more comfortable.
Icing is usually seen as a temporary way to alleviate symptoms rather than treating them in the long term.
Stretching is one of the top-recommended home remedies for heel pain. And its effectiveness has been well documented in research over the past several decades. We recommend stretching at least twice daily, including first thing in the morning, and before doing any exercises.
We’ve pulled together tons of FREE resources to help you learn the best stretches for heel pain.
3. Heel Seats
Heel Seats are one of the top orthotic inserts if you have heel pain, especially from plantar fasciitis. In a clinical study, they were shown to be twice as effective as one of the top brands you find in drugstores.
Heel Seats are the only shoe inserts that use patented Fascia Bar Technology — a small lump in the insert that applies therapeutic pressure to the base of your heel, where it meets the arch of your foot.
Heel Seats cost only $24.95, plus they are 100% guaranteed, so there is no risk to try them, even if they don’t end up working out for you.
Getting a foot massage professionally can run up to $100 an hour, but having your partner massage your feet or even giving yourself a massage can also be helpful!
Massage can help temporarily reduce the pain in your feet, and it promotes blood flow to the area which can be helpful in the long-term healing of an injury.
You can massage your feet absolutely free, or get a massage ball so that you can massage hands-free while sitting in a chair. Massage balls are only $19.95 for a three-pack, which works out to be around $6.5 each.
Resting is one of the best things that you can gift to yourself if you have heel pain — and in general, it’s free! If you notice heel pain developing after a long run, take a few days off before doing your next workout.
Unfortunately for people who have very active jobs, resting can be quite costly in that you have to miss work. If your pain is so severe that you are unable to function in your role, see if you may be able to use sick days or short-term disability to rest and recover.
While there’s not a ton of evidence that compression specifically aids in the healing of plantar fasciitis, some people find that compression provides soothing support and added comfort. Compression works by applying pressure to the fascia of your foot and heel, which can help improve circulation and provide extra support.
You can test out compression using an Ace bandage or something similar that you may already have at home, or try out our medical-grade Compression Socks (which truly are the most comfortable socks you’ll ever wear).
It’s common to see someone get a cast after breaking a leg or arm — this is a form of immobilization. In the case of heel pain, some people find it helpful to “immobilize” their foot or heel for a while, which is a way to allow it to rest even if you’re doing a mild activity.
Medical casts and braces can be very expensive, but it might be something that your health insurance covers if your doctor agrees that immobilization might be helpful. Otherwise, an Ace bandage or something similar that you have lying around your home may also help.
8. NSAIDs (anti-inflammatories)
Anti-inflammatories will do little to cure heel pain but can provide at least a little bit of pain relief in the short term for some people. Over-the-counter medicines like Advil and Aleve help reduce swelling and inflammation in your feet, and can reduce the pain as well. Typically you can find NSAIDs for around $5 a bottle at any drug store or supermarket.
9. Foot exercises
While exercises like running and jump rope can worsen heel pain, doing exercises to strengthen your feet can help improve conditions like plantar fasciitis. The marble exercise is one of our favorite ways to work the muscles of your feet.
10. Switching shoes
While a good pair of shoes usually cost more than $25, just switching to a different pair of shoes that you already own can be helpful to improve your heel pain. Plantar fasciitis sufferers should look for shoes that fit properly, have relatively inflexible soles and have sufficient arch support.
If you don’t currently own a pair of shoes that fit the bill, you can sometimes find like-new name brand shoes at thrift stores like Goodwill for less than $25.
With so many expensive gimmick treatments out there, it’s hard to tell what’s true and what’s a myth when it comes to heel pain treatments. We always recommend that people with mild heel pain start out with affordable home remedies like stretching and icing before looking towards pricy advanced treatments.
If you’re troubled by pain or aching in your heels, it’s actually more common than you may think. In fact, it happens to nearly 10% of all people at some point in their life.
But what’s even more interesting is, statistics show that women are affected by heel pain significantly more frequently than men.
This fact brings about a range of questions that leave you in wonder. What causes heel pain in women? Why do women experience it more frequently? What exactly is going on? If you are a woman afflicted by heel pain, you’re in the right place so keep reading.
Why are women more prone to heel pain than men?
Physiologically, women and men have very similar feet — so why is heel pain so much more common in women?
Unsurprisingly, one leading cause of heel pain in women is high heels. We all know that wearing high heels can be uncomfortable, and taking them off after a long night is a huge relief. But it goes beyond temporary comfort or pain: research has found that people who regularly wear high heels have a greater plantar fascial thickness, which is a strong indicator of plantar fasciitis. So in some cases, the increased likelihood of developing plantar fasciitis has little to do with being a woman, and more to do with the shoes you wear.
Other common types of women’s footwear may also be to blame in some cases. Even without high heels, shoes that are narrow in width or with pointy toes can re-shape the foot and change the alignment, leading to issues like heel pain, bunions, and hammertoe.
So, one of the best ways women can reduce their chances of developing heel pain is to make sure that they are wearing supportive footwear with sufficient space and cushioning.
It is also incredibly common to develop heel pain during pregnancy due to rapid weight gain. While it’s completely healthy to gain weight during pregnancy, it can contribute to gait imbalances and added pressure to the heels. That’s not to say that pregnant people (or anyone who has developed heel pain after weight gain) need to lose weight in order to address the problem. Most cases of plantar fasciitis can effectively be treated at home without weight loss by using home remedies like orthotic inserts, stretching, icing, and rest.
Common causes of heel pain in women
So you’re a woman who has heel pain, and it may have developed from regular daily lifestyle factors. But “heel pain” isn’t one single condition, and treatments depend largely on which specific condition has developed.
Plantar fasciitis is a condition that affects the plantar fascia, a ligament that connects your heel and front of the foot. This ligament goes through a lot of wear and tear as you walk, stand, run, and jump. Plantar fasciitis can develop for a wide number of reasons, including regular wear and tear, sports injuries, or lifestyle factors that are common for women, like wearing high heels or pregnancy.
Haglund’s deformity is another heel pain condition that is most common in women during their middle age. Also known as retrocalcaneal exostosis or “pump bump”, it is characterized by the enlargement of the bone where the Achilles tendon meets the heel bone. High heels are a common culprit of this condition as well, which is one reason it may be more common in women than men. Unlike plantar fasciitis, which causes pain on the bottom of the heel where it meets the arch of the foot, Haglund’s deformity causes pain at the back of the heel where it meets the ankle.
Flat feet are also closely linked to heel pain in women. This condition refers to little or no arch in the bottom of the foot, which may be due to genetics or improper footwear.
Foot and ankle arthritis
Arthritis is another condition that affects women much more frequently than men. In fact, women are 3x more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, especially during middle age. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that commonly causes inflammation and pain in the joints, sometimes including the joints of the foot, ankle, and heel.
Effective ways to reduce heel pain for women
Although heel pain is incredibly common for women, most people are able to resolve it at home with a few months of simple and natural remedies.
Wear properly-fitted shoes
Ill-fitted shoes are one of the most common causes of a wide variety of heel pain conditions. Opt for heels no taller than 1.5″ inches, and make sure that there is sufficient cushioning, proper arch support, and enough flexibility in the sole of the shoe that your feet can move naturally. Wearing the correct size of shoes is important too. If your shoes are too tight it may impact your gait or alignment, which can lead to heel pain.
Adding orthotic inserts is another great way to ensure that you are getting the proper support for your feet. Opt for something that adds cushioning and helps bring your feet into proper alignment, like Heel Seats.
Stretch your feet daily
Just like the rest of your body, it is necessary to stretch your feet. Heel pain often includes a severe feeling of tightness in the arch and heel of the foot, and regular stretching can provide short-term relief as well as contribute to long-term healing.
It is especially important to stretch and warm up your feet before and after you exercise.
If at-home remedies aren’t working for you, physical therapy is a great option to address your heel pain. Physical therapists will conduct an assessment and create a custom treatment plan to help improve gait and mobility.
If you are a woman with heel pain, you are not alone! Your heel pain may be caused by footwear or lifestyle conditions, or it may be completely unavoidable and caused by genetics. Whatever the cause of your heel pain, it’s important to address it quickly and visit a medical professional if it persists.
Managing the pain from chronic plantar fasciitis can feel like a full-time job. And whether most of your waking hours are spent at a full-time job, at home, or on the go, it’s not always easy to make time for regular pain relief.
Thankfully, many simple yet effective treatments for instant plantar fasciitis relief can be done almost anywhere, anytime.
We’ve compiled 10 fast, effective methods that will leave your heels and arches feeling great in no time! Use them during a quick 15-minute break from work, at home while you watch TV, or even while you run errands!
1. Massage your feet
Keep a golf ball, tennis ball, or Mobility Ball in your purse, desk, or drawer at home for a cheap, effective massage tool to provide comfort and pain relief throughout the day. Use the ball while sitting at your desk, or take a quick break from standing to roll the ball beneath your foot while applying steady pressure. Don’t shy away from “hot spots” of pain. When you reach a tender area, apply steady pressure (without causing sharp or intense pain) for several seconds before you continue rolling the ball.
Pressure from this massage distracts the pain receptors of the brain, sends blood flow to the arch and heel, and breaks down painful adhesions (improperly healed tears) on the plantar fascia ligament. For extra relief, put the ball in the freezer at the beginning of the day for soothing cold therapy as well!
While larger studies showing the effectiveness of massage are somewhat scarce, you’ll find no shortage of anecdotal evidence. Several smaller studies including one published in the Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies show a notable decrease in pain with self-massage.
2. Slip on an Ice Pack
Icing is a terrific way to immediately reduce heel pain from plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. A review lead by Dr. Chris Bleakley, which evaluated different studies on icing as a conservative treatment for soft-tissue injuries, found that icing offered temporary pain relief and helped people return to work and sports activities faster after an injury.
And the good news is, it doesn’t have to be a drippy, messy affair! Use inexpensive Ice Pack Slippers at work, which mold to the bottom of your foot, stay in place with soft velcro straps, and provide relief where you need it most! Ice Pack Slippers can be stored in your home or breakroom freezer and then slipped on during a 15-minute break while you rest your feet.
You can also make an easy homemade ice pack by placing a bag or frozen peas or corn in a plastic bag. Frozen vegetables make superior ice packs to the ice from your freezer, since the small particles will better conform to the contours of your foot!
A study published in Foot & Ankle International found that 83% of patients were successful in using stretching to improve their plantar fasciitis pain. There are many stretches that can be done simply and easily whenever you have a few minutes to spare. Stretching is one of the most effective ways to reduce pain and heal plantar fasciitis, since it improves the flexibility, strength, and stretch of the plantar fascia ligament itself.
If you have access to a wall, a pebble, a staircase, or a belt, you can find instant relief for your heel pain as well as strengthen your plantar fascia over time! All of these stretches take just a few minutes and are simple and easy enough to memorize quickly!
Check out these simple stretches for plantar fasciitis.
4. Try Dry Cupping
Dry cupping might seem a little strange at first. It involves positioning a cup on the skin and creating a vacuum to apply negative pressure that increases blood flow to the area, which reduces pain and breaks up adhesions to the plantar fascia. Several studies show that dry cupping is effective for pain relief from plantar fasciitis.
Dry cupping can be done anytime you have a few minutes to sit down, in about 10 minutes using inexpensive cupping kits. Cupping sometimes leaves red, bruise-like circles on your feet, but don’t worry — they aren’t painful, and they’ll go away after a few days.
5. Use Toe Separators
Toe separators elongate shrunken tendons that have become short and tight, gently encouraging toes to uncurl to a healthy position. Toe stretchers also improve blood flow to the feet, which break down adhesions, improve heel and foot pain, and strengthen muscles and ligaments in the toes and beyond.
Use Toe Separators to gently stretch and align the foot and toes anytime you are sitting or lying down (writing an email, watching TV, whenever you have 10-15 minutes!). Not only will your feet and toes be stronger afterward–they’ll feel great, too!
6. Use Sock Splints at Night, and Orthotics During the Day
If you spend a lot of time on your feet, you’ll want to use orthotic inserts to cushion your feet and reduce pain while you walk. Heel Seats are inserts made specifically for plantar fasciitis and raise the foot’s arch to the optimal position to relieve pain from heel spurs, as well as targeting pressure points in the foot for rapid pain relief. The best part about this treatment is that it works while you walk or stand! No need to stop what you’re doing.
If you spend a lot of your day sitting, you can also use a Sock Splint to keep your foot gently stretched and relieve pain while you send emails, read a book, watch TV, or rest on the couch. Many people with plantar fasciitis choose to tag-team orthotic inserts and sock splints throughout the day, whenever they will be resting or standing/walking. Many podiatrists recommend these softer sock splints instead of bulkier night splints since they are easier and more comfortable to wear consistently—which is key to success in healing!
7. Try TENs Therapy
TransCutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation, or TENS therapy, is a relatively new treatment for plantar fasciitis that stimulates the nerves in the feet with small doses of electrical current to improve blood flow and interrupt the body’s signals for pain. Some TENS devices look like a pair of sandals that you can slip onto your feet beneath your desk at work, while you sit on the couch at home, or even while you are lying in bed first thing in the morning. Other TENS units look like a small cell phone, with attached electrodes that can be placed on different parts of the foot.
Emerging evidence, including a study published in 2017 in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science show that TENS therapy significantly helps reduce inflammation, reduces stiffness and pain to the plantar fascia, and reduces pain while walking and other activities.
8. Strengthen Your Feet With a Washcloth
In one study, patients who were receiving shockwave therapy for plantar fasciitis were split into two groups: those who added simple plantar stretches to their routine, and those who did not. At the end of eight weeks, the patients who stretched were much more satisfied with their overall treatment experience.
One of the easiest ways to stretch your feet is with a simple washcloth. You can bring this washcloth with you to work, or keep one on your nightstand at home for a simple, fast pain-relief method any time! Simply sit on a chair or your bed, and put the washcloth on the floor in front of your feet. Then, using only your toes, attempt to pull the washcloth underneath your feet. (Watch this video to see the process).
This deceptively simple exercise strengthens and builds weak muscles in the feet that contribute to plantar fasciitis. Make sure you do this stretch with both feet, not just one!
9. Roll Your Feet with a Water Bottle
Chances are, you have a water bottle at your desk at work, in your kitchen at home, or on your bedside table. With this simple remedy, you can turn into a great tool to treat plantar fasciitis.
Similar to the ball stretch, simply sit in a chair and roll the water bottle between the heel and ball of your foot ten times, then switch sides. Apply steady pressure, but never to the point of pain. For extra healing and relief, freeze it beforehand!
Watch this video to see how it’s done.
10. Stretch Your Feet With a Book
Have a thick book lying around (a dictionary, or the employee handbook, perhaps?). You have a fantastic tool for treating plantar fasciitis! Use this technique during a break at work, or make a habit of doing this stretch each morning before you head out the door. The book stretch offers quick pain relief for plantar fasciitis and also strengthens the ligaments and muscles in your feet!
Place the book about two feet away from a wall. Then, stand on top with your heels hanging off the back edge. Slowly lean forward with your hands in front of you until your weight is supported against the wall in front of you. Hold this pose for 15 seconds, straighten your back, and lift your feet up and down using the balls of your feet. Next, do this stretch with one foot–then switch sides!
Whether you spend most of your time at a desk in an office, behind a store register, or on your feet running after grandchildren at home, these quick plantar fasciitis treatment techniques are fast, easy, and adaptable to almost any situation. Keep this list handy to keep your heels and arches happy all day long!
Plantar fasciitis is, at its core a degenerative condition that causes heel pain and sometimes gait issues. It can take a long time to heal plantar fasciitis (sometimes up to 18 months), so there is nothing more frustrating than when it flares up again and again.
If you’re fortunate enough to have had success with treating your heel pain, perhaps using methods like clinically-proven orthotics, resting, and daily stretching, you’ll want to keep these things in mind to ensure that your feet remain pain-free and you avoid heel pain flare-ups.
What Causes Plantar Fasciitis to Flare Up?
The best way to prevent plantar fasciitis from flaring up is by closely following your doctor’s treatment instructions and keeping up with your regular remedies. Take preventative measures like wearing plantar fasciitis inserts and stretching your feet regularly, and avoid these 7 heel pain triggers:
- Starting a new fitness activity
- Changes of intensity in activities
- Rapid weight gain
- Tight calf muscles
- New shoes
- Old, unsupportive shoes
- Injury to your foot, heels, or legs
- Other risk factors
1. Starting a new fitness activity
Finding new ways to get in your daily exercise is a great idea, but new activities may trigger plantar fasciitis. Sometimes it is just a matter of getting used to new movements and easing yourself into a new routine, but other times it may be the activity itself that is causing a real problem. When you decide to try a new workout, make sure that you warm up thoroughly, learn proper form, and wear supportive footwear. Avoid activities that require that you work out barefoot (like some martial arts and dance classes), and exercises that are particularly jarring to the feet.
2. Changes of intensity in activities
Even if you walk or run regularly, changing the intensity of your workouts can trigger plantar fasciitis. Sprinting when you normally jog, or power walking when you usually walk at a leisurely pace will put an added strain on your feet that your body isn’t used to. Brian Hamzavi, MS, MD; and David A Forsh, MD have found that “weekend warriors,” or people who spend most of the week working at a more sedentary job and then play hard on the weekends with lots of physical activity are especially vulnerable to plantar fascia injuries and flare-ups. If you tend to participate in physical activity in spurts, make sure that you take extra preventative measures like icing and stretching your feet before and after the activity. If you’re starting a new workout regimen, ramp up the intensity slowly instead of diving in.
3. Weight gain (even healthy weight gain)
Weight gain is a common cause and contributing factor to plantar fasciitis. Whether you are gaining body fat, muscle mass, or healthy weight from pregnancy, the added pounds put extra strain on your feet. This can cause plantar fasciitis for the first time, or trigger a new bout once you have already healed. If you know that weight gain has triggered your plantar fasciitis, the first solution to consider is losing weight. One study that included 228 patients with plantar fasciitis who lost a significant amount of weight through bariatric surgery showed that an amazing 90% recovered from plantar fasciitis. If weight loss is not possible (like with pregnancy or different health conditions), try to rest and elevate your feet more, and consider orthotic treatments to take the pressure off your arches.
4. Tight calf muscles
The muscles in the calves (specifically the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles) are directly connected with tendons and ligaments in the foot, including the plantar fascia ligament. Many podiatrists recommend stretching out the muscles in your calves as a way to improve plantar fasciitis, since improving strength and range of motion in these connected muscles can in turn help stabilize and support your arch. Lisa M. Schoene, DPM, ATC, FACFAS, says, “Calf stretching both with the knee straight and with the knee bent [is] an important part of the treatment protocol [for plantar fasciitis].”
5. New shoes
Trying a new style of shoes will sometimes trigger plantar fasciitis if they do not provide the proper support that you need. Shoes that are too flexible may cause added tension to the plantar fascia ligament, and different padding distribution may alter your footstrike as you walk or jog. To minimize the risk, try to only buy shoes that are immediately comfortable, not that you will need to “break-in”. If you need the added support of arch supports or plantar fascia inserts, it’s usually best to replace them with your new shoes. If you don’t yet have a new pair, swap your old inserts into your new shoes until you are able to replace them to ensure you have proper support at all times.
6. Old shoes
While new shoes can cause problems for plantar fasciitis, wearing worn-out shoes also poses a risk. If your shoes are showing noticeable wear on the insoles or bottom tread, it’s probably time to toss them out. Check the tread and integrity of your shoes every few months, and replace them when needed. Christopher Corwin, DPM, says, “Wearing appropriate shoes is the first step in alleviating the pain associated with plantar fasciitis.” This is especially important if you spend a lot of time on your feet at work, or if you participate in high-impact exercises like jogging or basketball. The more time you spend in a given pair of shoes, the more quickly those shoes will wear out.
Most people intuitively understand that injuries, strains, or trauma to the plantar fascia ligament can cause a flare-up of pain. However, it’s less commonly understood that an injury to the tendons in the leg, ankle, or foot can trigger a flare-up of plantar fasciitis. For example, several studies have documented that tightness or injury to the Achilles tendon is strongly correlated to the function of the plantar fascia. Injuries to the foot, ankle, or leg can be caused by stepping on uneven surfaces or objects, tripping, playing sports, exercising, or sustaining a blow to the foot. If you sustain an injury, take care of it immediately by icing and elevating it, and visit a doctor if you have any concerns or if the injury is severe.
8. Other risk factors
There are a wide variety of other risk factors that indicate a high likelihood of developing plantar fasciitis. Common risk factors include being female, overweight, between the ages of 40-60, and having other foot or leg ailments like bunions or flat feet.
That is not to say that being a certain gender or body weight is the cause of heel pain, but if you have multiple other risk factors you may want to be especially careful with your feet to ensure they stay healthy and happy.
Tips for Preventing Plantar Fasciitis Flare-Ups
In addition to avoiding these triggers for heel pain, keep the following tips in mind to streamline your healing process!
Follow your doctor’s treatment recommendations
Closely follow your doctor’s treatment instructions, even if you notice some improvement in your pain levels. Think of your treatment plan like following a course of antibiotics: You wouldn’t stop taking the entire prescription just because you started to feel better! Following your doctor’s recommendations for the full period of time recommended can help prevent relapses caused by reinjury to the fascia.
Stay consistent with at-home treatments
Keep up with your regular at-home treatments like wearing plantar fasciitis inserts and stretching your feet regularly. Inconsistency won’t give you the results you need as you work to strengthen and support your plantar fascia and surrounding muscles and ligaments. Remember, your plantar fasciitis didn’t develop in a few days but rather consistently over the course of several months or even years. Applying consistent treatment over time will have the opposite effect you’re looking for! Prevention is the key to avoiding recurring episodes of plantar fasciitis – and that includes following doctor’s orders, consistent treatments, and avoiding common heel pain triggers!
Have the right tools on hand
Having the right items in your home can make or break a plantar fasciitis flare-up. Sometimes being on your feet longer than you expected is unavoidable, or you accidentally trip and feel the muscles of your legs and feet tighten up. Here are some tools that you can always have on hand to ensure that if you feel your plantar fasciitis returning, you can immediately work towards recovery once again:
Foot cryotherapy, a relatively new procedure to treat the pain from chronic plantar fasciitis, is growing in popularity.
Initial reports show that the procedure has a great deal of potential, providing significant pain relief with a minimally invasive procedure. In one long-term study about cryosurgery for heel pain, 77% of patients reported significant pain relief in both short- and long-term check-ins (3 weeks post-procedure and 24 months post-procedure).
What should you know about foot cryotherapy? Is it safe? What is the difference between whole body cryotherapy and localized cryotherapy? Is it painful? How much does it cost? We have your answers!
What Is Foot Cryotherapy or Cryosurgery?
Cryotherapy, also known as cryosurgery or cryoultrasound, actually destroys nerve fibers (not the nerve itself). While the nerve remains intact, the inflamed nerve fibers (imagine an anemone) are destroyed. In about three weeks’ time, new fibers regenerate with healthy cells.
Cryotherapy is pretty similar to radiotherapy ablation–in which an ultrasound-guided probe uses heat to target and destroy damaged tissue. In cryotherapy, an ultrasound-guide cryoprobe uses ice and cold (more specifically nitrous oxide) to destroy damaged nerve fibers to interrupt pain signals.
Previously, cryotherapy was something of a shotgun approach. However, with advances in technology physicians are able to effectively target specific nerves with a cryoprobe.
Localized Cryotherapy Vs. Whole-Body Cryotherapy
The type of cryotherapy used to treat plantar fasciitis is also known as localized cryotherapy, since only a small part of the body (the plantar fascia) is treated, using a guided probe. However, as localized cryotherapy has grown in popularity, some health providers now offer whole-body cryotherapy.
In whole-body cryotherapy treatment sessions, a person enters a very cold, subzero vestibule (as cold as -80 degrees celsius!) for a short amount of time. While there hasn’t been much research to back the benefits of whole-body cryotherapy, supposed benefits include a rush of endorphins and reduced inflammation. But a study from 2014 cautions that icing and cold water baths appear to be equally effective (and far less expensive).
Cold Therapy Vs. Localized Foot Cryotherapy
So, is localized cryotherapy any more effective than, say, icing your feet or submerging your foot in very cold water to help reduce pain and inflammation? Yes and no.
While ice packs and cold water will certainly reduce inflammation and pain (and are fantastic for everyday use!) these home therapies won’t actually destroy inflamed nerve fibers that can be a cause of persistent pain like a cryotherapy probe.
Is Cryotherapy a Safe Procedure for Heel Pain?
Cryotherapy is generally considered very safe with minimal side effects, although you should remember that this is a newer procedure for plantar fasciitis that is still considered investigational/experimental. Cryoultrasound has been the subject of more in-depth research when it comes to neuromas and the destruction of abnormal tissue like tumors.
The good news is that while studies on cryotherapy and plantar fasciitis are still sparse, initial studies and anecdotal evidence are promising. And given the low risk of side effects and the lower cost (compared to surgery), cryosurgery shows a lot of potential.
What You Should Know About Foot Cryotherapy
The first thing you should know is that foot cryosurgery isn’t a painful procedure. You’ll feel a pinch from the needle when the local anesthetic is injected, of course, but after that, you won’t feel much more than light pressure during the procedure as a tiny incision is made and a cryoprobe is inserted into the foot.
The entire procedure will only take a few minutes, during which your doctor will guide the cryoprobe with the help of an ultrasound. A tiny, very cold ice ball on the end of the cryoprobe will destroy damaged nerve fibers, blocking pain signals and allowing for the regeneration of healthy nerve fibers.
Recovering from Cryosurgery
After the procedure, you’ll be encouraged to rest and elevate your feet, ice the injection site, and take anti-inflammatory pain relievers as needed. You should notice your pain level decrease as your foot heals, and you can typically go back to work and resume your daily activities after just one or two days. If at the end of two or three weeks, your pain level hasn’t subsided significantly, the procedure can be repeated.
The site is covered with compression bandage and patients are advised to reduce activity, ice and elevate for the remainder of the day. The bandage can be removed the following day and the patient can cover the area with a regular Band-Aid. You should keep the injection site clean and dry for at least 24 hours. Normal activity can be resumed within one or two days of the procedure and any pain that occurs is managed with NSAIDs or Tylenol. Pain continues to reduce over a two-week period; if at the end of the four-week period the reduction is not sufficient, the procedure can be repeated.
Side Effects and Benefits of Cryotherapy
Side effects of cryotherapy are generally mild. Some inflammation may flare up during healing and shouldn’t last more than a few days. Other potential side effects include bruising at the site of the injection and cryoprobe insertion or mild frostbite at the site of the probe insertion.
For some people who undergo cryosurgery, a tiny lump appears at the injection site that persists for several months after the area has healed. Typically, this lump will disappear within six months and isn’t painful.
For most people who undergo cryosurgery, the benefits outweigh these potential mild side effects. Many people experience significant or complete pain relief in the weeks and months following the surgery, particularly when cryosurgery is combined with treatments that address the root cause of plantar fasciitis.
How Much Does Cryotherapy Cost?
Cryosurgery is covered by many insurance plans, and out-of-pocket costs vary but fall somewhere in the neighborhood of $500 for most patients. Before deciding to undergo cryotherapy, make sure to talk to your doctor and insurance provider to find out your end cost.
Is Cryotherapy a Cure for Plantar Fasciitis?
While cryotherapy shows a lot of promise in reducing or eliminating pain from plantar fasciitis, new nerves that regenerate are still susceptible to damage unless the root cause of plantar fasciitis is addressed.
It’s important to determine the cause of your plantar fasciitis and take steps to prevent its return. Wearing plantar-fasciitis specific orthotic inserts that support and cushion your plantar fascia ligament, reducing the strain on your fascia, and stretching the muscles and ligaments in the arches, feet, and legs to keep them limber and strong will go a long way toward treating the root cause of your plantar fasciitis.