Heel pain can be an odd thing to experience. It seems like such a simple structure compared to the rest of the foot, but it’s actually quite a complex network of muscles, tendons, ligaments and soft tissues, which together support the weight of the body. It also absorbs most of the stress during movement.
What is Heel Pain and how is it caused?
Heel pain is a common symptom of excessive strain placed on the structures that form the heel.
It can also be caused by:
- trauma or impact
- abnormal walking style (caused by injury, arthritis, etc)
- standing or walking or running on hard surfaces
- wearing ill-fitting shoes.
Some of the conditions that can cause heel pain include:
- Plantar fasciitis: inflammation of the ligament that connects the heel bone to the toes
- Bursitis: swelling of a bursa (fluid-filled sac) at the back of the heel
- Achilles tendinitis: swelling of the Achilles tendon that connects the calf muscle and heel bone
- Bone spurs: extra growth of bone
- Calcaneus fracture: fracture of the heel bone
- Haglund’s deformity: bone enlargement at the back of the heel
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome: compression of nerves at the back of the foot
- Rheumatoid arthritis: autoimmune disease of the joints
What are the Types of Heel Pain?
This type of foot pain is typically a sharp stabbing or ache felt under or behind the heel, during walking, jogging and running. It may also be associated with swelling, inflammation, numbness and/or a tingling sensation.
What are the Treatment Options for Heel Pain?
The treatment of heel pain depends on the causes.
Conventional treatments include:
- Rest from activities that cause stress on the heel
- Applying ice packs over a towel to the area to help reduce pain and inflammation
- Regular exercise and foot massage
- Wearing proper shoes, heel cups, professional heel straps, and night splints
- Corticosteroid injections
- Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST), where high-energy soundwaves are delivered to treat nerve problems
- Anti-inflammatory medication (topical or oral)
- Surgery in cases of heel spurs, bursitis and fractures of the heel bone
In many cases, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy. This can help to strengthen the muscles and tendons in your foot, which helps to prevent further injury. If your pain is severe, your doctor may provide you with anti-inflammatory medications. These medications can be injected into the foot or taken by mouth.
Your doctor may also recommend that you support your foot as much as possible — either by taping the foot or by using special footwear devices.
How can you Prevent Heel Pain?
The following are a few steps to avoid heel pain:
- Wear shoes that fit properly and support the foot.
- Wear the right shoes for physical activity.
- Stretch your muscles before exercising.
- Pace yourself during physical activity.
- Maintain a healthy diet.
- Rest when you feel tired or when your muscles ache.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
See your doctor if:
- pain is severe or stopping you doing normal activities
- the pain is getting worse or keeps coming back
- the pain has not improved after treating it at home for 2 weeks
- you have any tingling or loss of sensation in your foot
- you have diabetes and have heel pain – foot problems can be more serious if you have diabetes
Go to an urgent care or emergency room if you:
- have severe heel pain after an injury
- feel faint, dizzy or sick from the pain
- have an ankle or foot that has changed shape or is at an odd angle
- heard a snap, grinding or popping noise at the time of injury
- are not able to walk
These might be signs of a broken heel bone or broken ankle.