As anyone who has ever had foot pain can tell you, when your feet hurt, you hurt all over. “The feet are the foundation of our ‘building,’ or body,” says Craig Gastwirth, a podiatrist at Podiatry Examiners of Michigan in Detroit. “If there’s a problem with that foundation, everything else – knees, hips and back – is thrown off.”

Heel pain, typically caused by plantar fasciitis, is the No. 1 reason people visit a podiatrist, says Dr. Gastwirth.

Plantar fasciitis, inflammation of a thick band of connective tissue called the plantar fascia, which runs along the sole from the bottom of the heel bone to the toes, can feel like the arch of the foot is tearing.

 No Stranger to Heel Pain

Arthritis patients are prone to develop plantar fasciitis – particularly those with inflammatory forms of arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and reactive arthritis, as well as in those with fibromyalgia.  Other causes include being overweight, standing too long, having arches that are either too high or too flat, or wearing unsupportive, hard-soled shoes.

One of the biggest problems associated with plantar fasciitis is that everyday walking can be painful, yet walking for exercise is one of the best therapies for it. There are ways to heal plantar fasciitis, so you can feel better all over and keep walking.

Begin by using ice and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve), if necessary, to reduce inflammation.

After a week or two of minimizing time on your feet, stretching the tissues (see below) and decreasing inflammation, you should be able to get out and walk comfortably at the end of each day, provided you wear a heel cushion in supportive, soft-soled shoes. After walking, stretch your feet.

You may not be able to walk as far or as fast as you did prior to developing plantar fasciitis, but continuing to walk will help you heal further. You can slowly work back to your regular pace and distance.

In 90 percent of people, heel pain improves significantly after two months of home treatment, according to the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons. If pain persists, talk to your doctor about wearing a night splint – a boot-like device that keeps your foot flexed while you sleep. If the pain is severe, a walking cast may be needed. Injections of inflammation-reducing corticosteroids can be considered, and surgery to release tension in the plantar fascia is an option of last resort for severe cases.

Heel-Healing Stretches

Before you get out of bed in the morning, and then periodically throughout the day, do the following exercises to increase flexibility and ease pain.

Slowly flex your foot and toes to stretch the tissue on the bottom of your sore foot. Hold the stretch for 10 counts. Relax and repeat.

Do gentle ankle rolls to keep the tissues around the ankle and on the back of the heel flexible.

Sit on the edge of your bed and roll your foot back and forth over a tennis ball.