Heels Hurt? Helpful Tips

Surprising facts about shoe inserts and other advice.

Heel pain, known as plantar fasciitis, affects 10 percent of all runners and 2 million people a year, says Dr. Carol C. Frey, associate professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Southern California.

Many doctors prescribe custom-made, rigid foot supports called orthotics. But in fact, over-the-counter shoe inserts may work just as well or better.

Dr. Frey and colleagues studied 240 patients with heel pain and found that 81 to 95 percent found relief using three types of over-the-counter shoe inserts that cost from $8 to $40. About 70 percent of those who used orthotics--which cost $300 to $600--found relief. Of the patients who did stretching exercises without an orthotic, 72 percent had diminished heel pain. "We were shocked," says Dr. Frey. "Over-the-counter inserts significantly outperformed the orthotics."

To avoid heel pain:

  • Wear shoes with good arch supports and heel control.
  • Don't stand for prolonged periods on hard surfaces.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. A gain of 20 pounds or more can hurt your feet.