Heel pain is one of the most common foot and ankle problem that podiatrists treat. It is usually the result of an atypical gait, or abnormality in walking, which places too much stress on the heel bone and attached tissues.
Injuries also cause this type of stress on the heel, and so do bruises from running, walking or jumping on hard surfaces, being overweight, or wearing flimsy footwear like flip-flops. Obesity and spending long hours on your feet are additional risk factors for heel pain.
A podiatrist’s expertise is necessary to distinguish among all the possible causes of heel pain and to provide the appropriate treatment to a patient’s needs and lifestyle.
Your podiatrist will take a medical history and thoroughly examine your foot. Diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays may help to determine specific causes of pain.
Generally, heel pain falls into two categories: pain on the bottom of the heel and pain on the back of the heel.
Pain on the bottom of the heel
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the band of fibrous connective tissue (the plantar fascia) that runs along the base of the foot, connecting the base of the toes to the heel. When the plantar fascia is strained beyond its normal range over time, its soft tissue fibers stretch or tear.
This causes pain and inflammation in the arch of the foot, near the heel. Plantar fasciitis may lead to the formation of a heel spur where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone.
The main symptom of plantar fasciitis is pain at the bottom of the heel that increases over time. Resting provides only temporary relief. The pain is typically worse when a patient gets up to walk after a night’s sleep due to a sudden elongation of the fascia band may pull on the heel.
The pain may lessen after a few minutes of walking as the fascia stretches therefore relieving the tension. This relief is only generally temporary and the pain often returns after physical activity or prolonged rest.
Treatment for plantar fasciitis may include wearing a plantar fascia night splint, icing, supportive shoes, reducing impact activities, and special exercises. Your podiatrist may also recommend custom orthotic devices, corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain, or physical therapy.
Heel spurs are bony growths on the underside of the heel bone and are detected by x-raying the foot. Not all heel spurs are painful. Constant strain on the muscles and ligaments of the foot stretches the long band of tissue that connects the heel to the base of the toes and may repeatedly tear away the heel bone’s surrounding membrane.
Calcium deposits build up on the bottom of the heel bone, and the calcium layers accumulate with repeated damage. The process produces a spur-shaped bump that can extend out from the heel by as much as half an inch. Risk factors for heel spurs include obesity, running or jogging, and improperly fitted shoes.
Pain on the back of the heel
Achilles tendinitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which runs behind the ankle and inserts into the rear surface of the heel bone. It occurs when the Achilles tendon is strained over time, which causes its fibers to tear or stretch along the length of the tendon or at the site of its insertion into the heel bone.
The result is pain, inflammation, and possibly growth of a heel spur. Patients who lead active lifestyles may experience chronic irritation because vigorous activity puts additional strain on the already tightened tendon.
What Steps Prevent Heel Pain?
- Wear shoes that fit well and support the arch of the foot
- Avoid barefoot walking or flip-flops when possible
- Wear the right kind of shoe for each activity
- Lose weight if you are obese
- Warm up properly with stretching both before and after exercise
- Be aware of your limitations and don’t overdo physical activity
- Get sufficient rest and follow a healthy diet
What To Do If You Are Experiencing Heel Pain
Patients do not have to live with chronic heel pain. Podiatrists provide access to the most effective treatments to manage or alleviate the pain.
At the Timonium Foot and Ankle Center we specialize in treating all types of heel pain. We have helped many patients alleviate their heel pain and get them back to their daily activities including exercise.
If you are experiencing any type of heel pain, give us a call today or fill out the form on the top right of this page to schedule your appointment.