5 Common Causes of Heel Pain and How to Treat Them

heel pain
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Heel pain is an extremely common complaint, and there are several common causes. It is important to make an accurate diagnosis of the cause of your symptoms so that appropriate treatment can be directed at the precise cause of the problem. Once the source of the pain is clear, a more targeted treatment plan can help you speed your recovery. Furthermore, knowing the right cause of symptoms can help you take steps to prevent the condition from returning. If you have pain, some causes include:

Most Common Causes of Heel Pain

  • Plantar Fasciitis: This is the most common condition that causes heel pain. Plantar fasciitis is due to irritation and inflammation of the tight tissue that forms the arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is characterized by pain on the bottom of the heel that is often felt upon weight bearing after rest, such as when taking your first steps in the morning or when standing up after prolonged sitting. There are many treatments that people use for plantar fasciitis including ice application, anti-inflammatory medications, footwear modification, stretching, and others. Often it takes time and avoidance on aggravating activities in order for the body to fully recover from this condition. The words plantar fasciitis and heel spur are often used interchangeably, and while they don't really mean the exact same thing, they often are used to describe the same problem.
  • Achilles Tendonitis: This type of tendonitis causes an inflammation of the Achilles tendon and is the result of overuse or trauma to the Achilles, the large cord-like tendon that attaches to the back of the heel bone. The pain is usually located at the part of the tendon that is slightly above the heel bone, although this can also cause pain directly at the insertion of the tendon on the heel bone. Achilles tendonitis often causes nagging pain that may take months or longer to resolve. Some simple treatments including ice, anti-inflammatory medications, or heel wedges can be helpful, but in more advanced situations, the foot may need to be immobilized for a time.

    Other Sources of Heel Pain

    • Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: This nerve condition causes a large nerve in the back of the foot to become pinched. Similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in the hand, tarsal tunnel syndrome can cause heel pain. In addition, other nerve symptoms such as numbness and tingling can occur in people who have this condition.
    • Stress Fractures: Overuse injuries of the bone can lead to stress fractures. A stress fracture is especially concerning in athletes such as long distance runners who have heel pain. Typically these symptoms will occur gradually over time, especially when athletes or long distance runners increased there running mileage.
    • Heel Bursitis or 'Pump Bump': Bursitis is inflammation of a fluid-filled sac that lies between a tendon and bone. Retrocalcaneal bursitis causes pain deep in the back of the heel and is the result of inflammation of a bursa that lies beneath the Achilles tendon where it attaches to the back of the heel bone. Another type of bursitis occurs from the shoe rubbing against a bony prominence on the heel bone. This results in pain, redness, and sometimes swelling on the upper part of the back of the heel.

      When to Call the Doctor

      If you are unsure of the cause of your symptoms, or if you do not know the specific treatment recommendations for your condition, you should seek medical attention. Treatment of heel pain must be directed at the specific cause of your problem. Some signs that you should be seen by a doctor include:

      • Inability to walk comfortably on the affected side
      • Heel pain that occurs at night or while resting
      • Heel pain that persists beyond a few days
      • Swelling or discoloration of the back of the foot
      • Signs of an infection, including fever, redness, warmth
      • Any other unusual symptoms

      Treatment

      Treatment depends entirely on the cause of the problem. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that you understand the cause of your symptoms before embarking on a treatment program. If you are unsure of your diagnosis, or how severe your condition is, you should seek medical advice before beginning any treatment plan.

      Some common treatments are listed here. Not all of these treatments are appropriate for every condition, but they may be helpful in your situation.

      • Rest
        • Avoiding the precipitating activity; for example, take a few day off jogging or prolonged standing/walking. Just resting usually helps to eliminate the most severe pain, and will allow the inflammation to begin to cool down.
      • Apply Ice Packs
        • Icing will help to diminish some of the symptoms and control the heel pain. Icing is especially helpful after an acute exacerbation of symptoms.
      • Exercises and Stretches
        • Exercises and stretches are designed to relax the tissues that surround the heel bone. Some simple exercises, performed in the morning and evening, often help patients feel better quickly.
      • Anti-Inflammatory Medications
        • Anti-inflammatory medications help to both control heel pain and decrease inflammation. Over-the-counter medications are usually sufficient, but prescription options are also available.
      • Shoe Inserts
        • Shoe inserts are often the key to successful treatment of heel pain. The shoe inserts often permit patients to continue their routine activities.

      Prevention

      Preventing symptoms of heel may be a critical component to the long-term treatment of your condition. Depending on the exact source of pain, prevention strategies may slightly differ, but in general there are some steps that you can take to avoid a recurrence of heel pain symptoms. Some of these steps include:

      • Gradually increasing activity levels, especially athletes who were increasing their athletic activities or running mileage, progressing gradually over time, and taking breaks to ensure has opportunity to heal, can help prevent recurrent wound healing problems.
      • Maintaining ideal body weight: Excess body weight causes a number of medical concerns, among them is the increased burden on the lower extremities. People with excess body weight have a higher chance of developing arthritis in your joints, and place increased stress on the lower extremities, including the heel.
      • Wearing the right foot where: Weightbearing appropriate foot wear for activities is critical for prevention of many types of heel pain. Some activities require appropriate support or cushioning, and wearing the appropriate footwear for the activity can help avoid a recurrence of heel pain. Early identification of discomfort:
      • Usually your body will let you know when you are doing some kind that is causing an aggravation. Listening to the symptoms, especially in the early stages, can give you an opportunity to address a problem before it becomes severe. Continuing to perform an activity that is causing worsening of symptoms, can lead to a more significant problem that is harder to address.

        A Word From Verywell

        Some causes of heel pain are more serious than others. Regardless, your doctor can help you figure out what's causing the discomfort and craft a treatment plan that'll help your specific situation. Most solutions are fairly simple—rest, ice packs, and stretches, for example—that you can do at home without any hassle.

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