Why Surgery Is Not the First Choice for Heel Pain

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It’s a very human trait to imagine the worst. What if that turbulence means the plane is going down? What if that emergency meeting today means we’re all getting fired?

When it comes to medical matters, this fear seems to double. Thanks, WebMD.

Don’t take us wrong here. Having a cautious attitude toward your health and wanting to know more about what is going on with your body is a wonderful thing! But when people immediately assume the worst, it tends to cause much more stress and hesitation than is helpful.

One case in point deals with heel pain. Many, many people endure the sharp discomfort of plantar fasciitis or other lasting problems on a daily basis. They could be experiencing much less misery with treatment, but they don’t feel that anything can be done; or worse, they feel the only thing that can be done is an expensive and life-interrupting surgical procedure.


But here’s the thing: when it comes to surgical procedures, we’d rather not have our patients go through with them, either!

Most medical practitioners agree! If there are alternatives that can give us the desired effect (in this case, not making you dread putting your feet on the floor each morning), we will always go with those first!

Why is that?

The Straight Dope on Surgery

Surgery is an extremely important tool in treatment, but one that should only be used when necessary.

While surgery is used as a means to a good end, it is still causing harm to a patient. It is a controlled form of harm, but still harm nonetheless. To even consider surgery as an option, the end results of that harm must outweigh the harm we cause.

Even after scars heal, the body is never 100% the same as it was before a surgery. So, anytime options outside of surgery can be effective, it’s worth pursuing.

What does this all mean if you suffer from heel pain? The odds are much in your favor for not needing surgery at all!

According to the University of Michigan, about 1 in 20 people with plantar fasciitis (the most common cause of heel pain), will end up needing surgery. The other 19 get by just fine with conservative treatments.

Your individual odds for needing surgery will depend on the condition at the root of your heel pain, your lifestyle, and your individual health. However, the majority of cases still respond well to conservative methods before surgery ever needs to be a consideration.

Additionally, surgery is very rarely ever on the table as a first treatment option. You will never have surgery “popped up” on you as a surprise. It must be obvious that surgery is the only option that will help, and that your pain is having an impact on your daily life and mobility.

In many cases, conservative options will be tried for up to a year before considering surgery.

What Are Conservative Treatment Options for Heel Pain?

There are many different forms of treatment for different causes of heel pain. Once again, the best recommendation for your case will depend on the specific causes, your lifestyle/career, and other factors. A comprehensive exam will bring all these elements to light.

Some of the non-surgical forms of treatment we might recommend for you include:


Yes, simple rest; at times accompanied with icing and elevation. In some cases, things might not be quite as simple, sure. If you have been engaging in activities that have been causing your heel pain, we will want to reduce or temporarily stop them until your body has had a full opportunity to heal. This may involve finding alternative, lower-impact exercises that can keep you moving in the interim.

Physical Therapy.

Whereas some exercises might need to be reduced, exercises meant to build supporting strength and increase range of motion might also be introduced. These exercises can take the form of simple stretches, weight work, and balance exercises.

Custom Orthotics.

In cases where an abnormal foot structure or gait is responsible for heel pain, we may prescribe a custom-made orthotic insert to be worn within your shoes. These are specially made to provide support in crucial areas and correct motion, taking excess force away from areas of pain.

Night Splints, Taping, or Strapping.

In some cases of plantar fasciitis, the use of night splints while sleeping can hold stressed tissues in a better position to help reduce pain in the morning. For other conditions, taping or strapping the arch can help reduce strain and provide further comfort.

Medication or injections.

Anti-inflammatories and pain relievers can help in cases of more severe pain as a condition heals. In some cases, corticosteroid injections might also be recommended, but conditions must be specific.

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