Heel pain is a fairly common complaint that we see in the clinic and unfortunately, it’s one of those issues that people can get sucked into paying a small fortune on unnecessary gadgets and orthotics in order to help ease the pain. Heel pain doesn’t have to be that complex to treat however, and often searching further up the chain towards the glutes (aka: your butt) can solve the problem.
Traditionally, a lot of time can be spent stretching/massaging/rolling/taping the calf and foot muscles as the first line of treatment. And if it works for your pain – brilliant! But what if it doesn’t and you are left scratching your head about what to do next? Sometimes orthotics are offered but in our experience this only really works for about half of people and so that can be a costly experiment. If calf and foot stretching/massage/needling gives temporary pain relief, that can be a great way of decreasing your pain initially, but it won’t last long unless you address the biomechanical issue that is causing the heel pain in the first place!
I explain the biomechanics of how your glutes affect your heel using this simple equation:
Weak glutes = ↓ hip extension = ↑ load goes though the calf and other lower leg muscles to compensate = ↑ strain on the Achilles tendon which inserts into the heel.
In short, your heel pain might be caused by weakness in your glutes (think – sitting all day for work, not exercising enough, the story can go on). Your glute max is the big butt muscle and its main role is to extend the hip. This is really important when walking and running, so if you don’t have an adequate amount due to the glute max being lazy, then the body is really smart and will just use the next available muscle to do this (enter the calf muscle). This is a good example of how our bodies can utilise compensation strategies, which in turn can end up causing issues of their own.
So how do we fix this? Pretty simple really, address the glute weakness! One of the best exercises for this is the humble glute bridge (see picture below). Remember its really important that you feel this IN YOUR BUTT and not in your thighs or lower back. Adding some weight on top of your hips as you progress is a good option and will really help you feel a burn in the glutes. Remember we are trying to build strength into that hip extension position so we want the exercise to feel challenging and not a walk in the park.
If you address the biomechanical issue and combine that with stretching/massage/needling for pain management initially, you will have much greater success in long term improvement! Give it a go and let us know.