Divya Prasanth (32) from Kozhikode, Kerala, spends a lot of time on her feet as a teacher. She soon found that she was unable to stand for long due to excruciating pain in the heels. The discomfort progressed to debilitating pain in 2-3 weeks.
“It reached a point where I was limping all the time, especially while taking classes,” she says.
Stretching her feet and applying ice to the painful areas brought no relief.
A podiatrist diagnosed Prashanth with severe plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the plantar fascia (the tough band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the ball of the foot). Though she had this condition in both feet, the right foot was more painful and inflamed.
She consulted an ayurvedic expert to her manage the condition naturally.
The expert recommended several management methods to help Prashanth get back on her feet (literally!). She was advised to strengthen the calf muscles by doing specific exercises, follow 14-day ayurvedic procedures involving herbal pastes, calf muscle massages and pouring of warm herbal oil on the lower limbs. She was also given herbal medicines for pain relief.
“I still have some pain now and then, but it is very manageable,” she says.
Prasanth stretches each morning and wears appropriate footwear as part of her daily routine.
Many causes for aching heel
“Heel pain is a challenging condition. While some are easy to manage, others are difficult. It appears to be a simple condition, but there are many causes for heel pain,” says Dr Ajeesh T Alex, chief medical officer and consultant for conservative orthopaedics, sports medicine, and sports nutrition, ACTYMED, Thodupuzha, Kerala.
High uric acid levels, low calcium, and vitamin D3 deficiency can be common causes of heel pain. One should test one’s ionic calcium level besides serum calcium, he adds.
In most cases, plantar heel pain is caused due to calf muscle tightness. While the pain is caused in the heels, it is the calf muscles that need to be treated, says Dr Alex.
Another leading cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis that is due to inflammation or degeneration of plantar fascia. Ninety per cent of people with plantar fasciitis get better in three to six months.
Heel pain is more likely if one:
- Is overweight or obese
- Is an athlete
- Puts excessive stress on the heel
- Has a job that involves much running, walking, or standing for long
- Is a menopausal woman
- Wears incorrect footwear
Reducing the sensation of pain is the first line of management, says Dr Alex.
Here are ayurvedic ways of managing plantar fasciitis.
Hydration is the key
A lot of the body’s water is stored in connective tissue, including the tendons, ligaments, and collagen fibres. “When your bodily fluid is low due to ageing, unhealthy diet, or not drinking enough water daily, you are more prone to inflammation that can lead to heel pain,” says Dr Reshmi R S, ayurveda medical officer, ISM, Kerala.
Staying hydrated is not just about how much water one consumes but also the amount of water one’s body retains and processes appropriately. Besides drinking enough water, one should include healthy, water-rich foods like oranges, pineapples, melons, lettuce, and celery in one’s diet.
Stretching – The first step in the morning
“Stretch your calf muscle when you wake up. You must do it for at least two minutes every day. Exercise your toes to get the circulation going again when you get your feet down,” says Dr Alex. Wall stretch exercise is highly recommended for heel pain, he adds. Moreover, soaking one’s feet in warm water containing 1-2 tablespoons of Epsom salt for 10 minutes daily helps with pain.
Massage your pain away
Ayurvedic management for heel pain involves massaging the calf muscles, feet, and soles with Dhanwantaram tailam and Pinda tailam. Take equal parts of the two oils and warm them. Apply from the top of the thighs to the heels longitudinally. Also, apply it across the heel. After 15 minutes, soak the feet in warm water with lime juice or fermented rice water. Doing this for about one or two weeks and exercising helps relieve the pain.
“In ayurvedic practice, ghee infused with bitter herbs (like guggul and neem) are recommended for managing inflammatory condition associated with plantar fasciitis,” says Dr Reshmi.
Hot or cold compress
Some people get relief when heat is applied to the soles, while others prefer colder temperatures. According to a study on the alternate hot and cold application in the management of heel pain, the therapy significantly improved foot functionality and pain in heel.
One can try contrasting foot baths by keeping one’s feet in warm water for a minute and then in cold water. This contrasting bath helps invigorate the whole body and improve the blood circulation.
Herbal foot bath – Padadhara
Herbal foot bathing involves pouring medicated warm oil over the feet (especially the sole). Pouring medicated herbal decoctions and dipping the feet in the herbal water helps relieve heel pain and the related stress to the feet. This ayurvedic therapy also helps in managing calf muscle pain.