How Weight Affects Your Heels - Jeffrie C. Leibovitz, DPM

How Weight Affects Your Heels (And What You Can Do About It!)

Even Billy Joel will tell you:    (yet another Dinosaur Rock reference)

Extremes are almost always bad.

And that is something that can hold true for even innocuous, life-sustaining activities—like drinking water.

But, at the same time, most things in life are fine in moderation.

The fact of the matter is this:

Having an occasional donut or enjoying a piece of cake on your birthday won’t likely cause you major problems in the long run (assuming diabetes isn’t part of the picture).

(Actually, some would say that being able to enjoy such things is one of the finer points of life.)

Problems arise, however, if you pull a “Billy Joel” and go to extremes by eating half a dozen donuts every morning for breakfast! Or having 60+ consecutive sold out concerts at Madison Square Gardens.

We don’t have to tell you that a consequence of a donut-heavy breakfast diet is weight gain—and that is a variable linked to increased risk of heel pain.

For example, eating delicious baked goods.

Bodyweight and heels aren’t the best of friends.

If you recall, weight is—along with activity and biomechanics—one of the triad when it comes to predicting foot injuries (like the ones responsible for heel pain).

We’ll look at this more closely in just a minute, but the general gist of weight’s correlation with heel pain comes down to a simple matter:

Your heel is fairly small in stature, yet it endures tremendous amounts of force. While walking, all the body weight is on one leg, ankle, and foot at a time. And gravity doubles the downward force with walking and increases 6-10 times the force with running. This is not a big deal if you only take 10 steps a day. But if you are doing the recommended 10,000 steps a day, or more, that is a truck load of weight.

For the benefit of anyone who doesn’t recall Newton’s laws of physics off the top of the head—force is the product of mass and acceleration. Translation – Greater the body mass produces greater force. Acceleration is controlled by the foot’s biomechanics. If the foot and ankle “roll in” too far (pronation) the soft tissue (tendons and ligaments) get overly stretched. The result would be tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. It is like a car that bottoms out with bad shocks.

Obviously, weight plays a role in heel pain—so what can you do about it?

The good news is that there are some very easy, very basic actions you can take to ease the load on your feet.

Even better, you receive a wide range of benefits from taking simple measures like:

Robbing the Bank

Some people consider their body as a temple, some think of it as a tent. It really is just a saving account. What goes in and what goes out always balances.  Activity is a withdrawal and food is a deposit. At the end of the day, week, or year the bottom line is which is greater- deposits or withdrawal.

This blog is not about the magic of how to control weight but to highlight the contributing factor it plays in foot pain.  There are additional parts of the pound puzzle that include a support team, motivation, and accountability.

Trendy and “crash” diets come and go for a pretty basic reason—these are not sustainable programs!

Some may work in the short term, but the most likely scenario is that the weight will just come right back.

Instead of going on a diet, a smarter approach is to add good dietary habits. In particular, one we find to be rather sensible and effective is the Mayo Clinic Diet.

Touted as a “weight-loss program for life,” the Mayo Clinic’s dietary plan is centered on two phases—Lose It! And Live It!—and gives you an abundance of options for meals that are full of essential nutrients, conducive to your weight loss (or maintenance) goals, AND taste delicious!

Exercise on a regular basis.

Hopefully it’s less than surprising to hear someone in the medical field tell you that a key to shedding unwanted pounds—and then keeping them off!—is to be active.

But how frequently do you hear this in conjunction with heel pain?

Probably not too often. And you certainly don’t have to become a gym rat or ultra-marathoner if you want to avoid heel pain through physical activity! (They also get heel pain.)

Here’s the thing, though—regular exercise and stretching is important and can potentially help you avoid heel pain in two different ways:

  1. Keeping the soft tissues in your feet and ankles flexible so it does not get micro tears.
  2. Maintaining a healthy weight.

To the first point, many cases of heel pain are related to the soft tissues anchored to the heel bone (plantar fascia, Achilles tendon). And, obviously, you know the importance of that second point, right?

Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room:

How are you supposed to exercise when you have debilitating heel pain?

Good question.

We understand this can be a rather challenging situation, but don’t forget that you have a resource that is ready to provide the care you need—our office!

Remember, we offer an array of treatment methods that can help you overcome the injuries and conditions responsible for your heel pain. And the sooner you come to see us, the sooner you’ll be back to your favorite physical activities.

(Oh, and you might like to know that an overwhelming majority of cases are treated without needing surgery.)

When you’re ready to get back to activity, you will likely prefer to stick mainly to low-impact exercises.

With that being the case, you’ll probably want to know what makes an exercise “low-impact.”

Well, you can think of it like this:

If high-impact exercises are the equivalent of descending down an aggressive rock garden on a hard tail mountain bike versus the low-impact of cycling on the smoothest city streets on a road bike.

In these examples, your body is the bike and, naturally, endures much more physical stress and force if you’re tackling one of the Fort Ben’s Lawrence Creek or Schoen trails or riding around the paved Delaware Lake loop on a road bike.

Don’t forget—the force on your landing foot with every step when you run can reach 6-10 times your bodyweight!

That is a lot of physical stress to put on a fairly small area of your body.

Fortunately, your body uses a biomechanical process called “pronation” to help with that. (Less fortunately, it’s problematic if you either over- or under-pronate…)

Get plenty of sleep

We know that some of you out there will try to go down this road, so we’re going to nip it in the bud:

Just stop with the “I only need 3 hours of sleep” nonsense right now.

It is a straight-up, scientific fact that, as an adult, you need somewhere between 7-9 hours of sleep every night. (Well, if you care about your physical health.)

This is when your body repairs damaged tissue. When you’re in the deep sleep stages, you are recovering from injuries—like those responsible for heel pain.

Essentially, while we’re sleeping, our bodies also use the time to balance out some important hormone levels, including those for Cortisol, Leptin, and Ghrelin:

Cortisol is often—and rightfully—thought of as being related to stress. The thing is, it also contributes to weight gain (when consistently high levels of it are being released during the day).

During a proper’s night sleep, your body is able to decrease cortisol levels. If you skimp on your sleeping, the cortisol remains at an elevated level (along with your risk for gaining unwanted pounds).

Leptin and Ghrelin are more directly connected to hunger—with the former telling the body it has had enough food, and the latter letting the body know when it should be hungry.

When you don’t get enough sleep during the night, your Leptin levels remain low and Ghrelin levels rise. Combined, these factors lead to increased appetite and greater food consumption—a recipe for weight gain.

Just because they’re easy doesn’t mean you can ignore them!

If you step back and look at what we’ve been talking about today, you’ll quickly see that we aren’t discussing incredibly complicated actions.

At the risk of oversimplifying the situation—eat well, get some exercise, and sleep an appropriate amount. By doing so, you put yourself in position to lose and/or maintain a healthy bodyweight.

And your feet will certainly appreciate your efforts!

Again, if heel pain is keeping you from even being able to do a couple of sessions of physical activity every week, we can help! Just give us a call—(317) 545-0505—or connect with us online.