Stop us if you’ve heard this one: summer is hot in Arizona.
Yeah, we know.
But for hardy locals accustomed to the climate (“It’s a dry heat,” right?), triple-digit temps generally aren’t enough to get in the way of a good time! The kids are out of school, the tourists and snowbirds have flown away, and playing 18 holes costs less than half of what it did in December. So what if it’s 106 degrees?
But you know what will get in the way of a good time this summer—even for the hardiest, most extreme sunshine addicts?
There’s no such thing as a “dry” heel pain, after all. And dealing with it isn’t quite so simple as putting on a hat, drinking a bottle of water, or stepping inside an air-conditioned boutique for a few minutes.
In truth, heel pain that’s strong enough will make it impossible to get through your golf round, hike a canyon trail, or really even just get through your workday without being miserable by the end.
And unfortunately, for many reasons, summer really is “heel pain” season, even here in Arizona (though the lack of a cold winter keeps the spike from being quite as pronounced as in other parts of the country.)
We don’t want this to be your reality any more than you do, so we’ve put some tips together to help you prepare and protect your feet this summer.
Support Your Feet Properly
Probably the most significant “trigger” for heel pain, especially during the summer months, is wearing footwear that doesn’t properly support and cushion your heels and arches.
We understand that this is probably the hardest time of year for our patients to stick with supportive shoes—as well as any orthotics they may have been prescribed. The temptation to ditch the orthotics, go barefoot, or wear unsupportive flip flops is very real in summer heat. And there could be consequences for wearing closed-toed shoes all the time, too—if you routinely wear damp, poorly ventilated footwear, your odds of contracting a fungal infection go through the roof.
But we’re here to tell you that this is a problem that can be managed—in a way that helps you prevent heel pain and stay cool and comfortable.
- Choose shoes that offer quality arch support and cushioning. Flip flops are okay for lazing by the pool—and that’s about it. If you’re going to be out and about, good support is an absolute must.
- Also, make sure your shoes are appropriate for the specific activity you’ll be performing in them. In other words, if you’re a regular runner, your heels will be a lot better off in a pair of running shoes, as opposed to “generic” athletic sneakers. The same is true for those who play other sports.
- Contrary to popular belief, sandals can be okay! There are many brands and styles that offer built-in arch support and other comfort features. We’d also recommend you look for styles with adjustable straps (including around the heel) so that you can customize the fit. Sandals that slide or flop around can alter your walking gait, which often leads to heel pain or other problems.
- Exception to the above rule: If you have diabetes or peripheral neuropathy, avoid sandals and stick to shoes only. The risk of accidental injury is too great with open toes.
- Don’t stop wearing your orthotics, if you’ve been prescribed them. Just like glasses or contacts, they need to be worn in order to work. Once again, this doesn’t mean you have to stay stuck in sneakers—we are often able to help our patients fit orthotics to sandals with removable footbeds.
- Don’t continue wearing shoes that are worn out. They may be “comfortable” and familiar, but over time the cushioning under the heel and arch will become compressed and unable to provide the shock absorption your heels need.
- Although this is not directly heel pain related, do make sure you’re rotating between pairs of shoes frequently—at least every other day. You want each pair to fully air out before wearing it again.
Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
About 30 percent of adult Arizonans are considered medically obese. Although that’s actually slightly less than the national average, it’s still a lot of folks—and a growing state health concern.
We probably don’t have to remind you about all the health-related risks that increase dramatically for people who are obese. That said, constant heel pain is one of the most overlooked—yet ultimately most impactful—consequences.
See, it’s not just your bodyweight alone that your heels have to deal with, but also the impact of the steps you take. That could be equivalent to twice your body weight when walking, and even more when running or jumping!
Losing weight will drastically reduce the scale of the shock forces on your heels over the course of a typical day, and make it much easier to enjoy outdoor summer activities without limitation.
Prepare Your Feet for Activity
Whenever you’re planning to take on a new workout routine, train for an upcoming event, or just spend the day hiking or playing sports, it’s important to prepare yourself—in both the short term and the long term.
In the short term, always remember to stretch and warm up your feet before exercise. Remember, just because it’s blazing hot outside doesn’t mean your muscles and joints are “warmed up” for exercise! In particular, tight calf muscles and Achilles tendons can tug painfully on the heel bone and plantar fascia, so it’s important to keep them as flexible and relaxed as possible.
Over the longer term, it’s important to ease into new activities or sports that are unfamiliar, or are a much greater physical challenge than you are accustomed to. Always start slowly, at a comfortable pace, and quit if things start becoming painful. Then, you can gradually ramp up the intensity week by week.
When It Hurts, Stop What You’re Doing and Seek Help
We’ll repeat it—whenever you feel pain in your heels, you should take a break and stop doing whatever it was that was causing it. Pain is not normal. Continuing to do the things that are causing it will only make the situation worse.
And if you find that the pain is severe or keeps coming back no matter what you do, stop by and see the team at Advanced Foot & Ankle Specialists of Arizona. We have a wide variety of advanced treatment options at our disposal to help you recover quickly, with the least amount of disruption to your day-to-day life. Even if your heel pain is severe, there’s a great chance we can help you without requiring surgery.
To schedule an appointment with our team in either Gilbert or Chandler, please give us a call today at (480) 963-9000.