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Heel pain is a common complaint among active adults. It can start gradually or come on suddenly, particularly if it is the result of an injury. Usually, pain is felt under the foot, toward the front of the heel. Symptoms typically subside during moderate activity but often worsen after rest – especially in the morning. Luckily, there are many treatments to address the pain and get you moving comfortably again.
The Causes of Heel Pain
A number of factors and diseases can cause heel pain.
- Plantar fasciitis is the most common source of heel pain in adults. It is caused by inflammation in the band of ligaments that run from the heel bone to the toes, on the underside of the foot. Pain occurs when the plantar fasciitis stretches too far and becomes inflamed. Frequently, pain is more severe after periods of rest or first thing in the morning. Heel spurs – or painful bony structures – often accompany plantar fasciitis.
- Heel bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa in the back of the heel. The bursa is a sac of fluid that can get inflamed due to pressure from running or jumping, or from wearing footwear that is too tight. Pain usually gets worse throughout the day.
- Heel bumps – sometimes called “pump bumps” – occur when the heel bone is rubbed excessively, encouraging extraneous bone to form. It is far more prevalent among women (especially teens) and can be caused by wearing high-heeled shoes before the heel bone is mature.
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome causes pain when the nerve in the back of the foot becomes pinched or compressed.
- Heel pad inflammation can result in pain if the heel pad becomes too thin due to excessive pressure.
- Stress fractures are overuse injuries that occur in the heel when it is exposed to repeated stress due to running, jumping, sports and fitness activities, or even heavy manual labor.
- Severs disease is the prevailing cause of heel pain in children, particularly those ages 7-15. It is caused by overuse and repetitive stress on the growth plates of the heel bone, and is typically seen among athletes that participate in high-impact sports.
- Achilles tendinitis causes pain due to degeneration of the Achilles tendon, which can become weak and painful as a result of repeated microscopic tears.
Diagnosing Heel Pain
If you are experiencing heel pain, your doctor will perform a physical examination and ask questions about your medical history, activity level, and your pain. He or she may also order tests such as x-rays, imaging, or blood work to gather more information.
Treating Heel Pain at Home
Sometimes home treatment is enough to alleviate heel pain. Home remedies include:
- Rest: Resting your foot until the inflammation settles down can be helpful for some causes of heel pain.
- Ice: Minor pain can sometimes be alleviated by applying ice to reduce inflammation.
- Footwear: Often, heel pain can be addressed by changing footwear, particularly if you are an active person. Proper-fitting and supportive shoes, particularly during sports or fitness activities, may help.
Medical Treatments for Heel Pain
If at-home care does not help or your condition is more severe, there are several treatments that a doctor can prescribe to improve your situation, depending on your diagnosis.
- Orthotics: Because heel pain is often triggered by a flat arch or inadequate footwear, orthotics are an important tool for easing heel pain, and can be especially useful in treating the most common cause of heel pain, plantar fasciitis. Orthotics range from over the counter cushioning cups that fit into your shoes to custom-made orthotics that are molded to your foot to provide effective foot and arch support. Having custom-made orthotics fitted is a quick and painless process, and is often covered by insurance.
In addition to orthotics, your doctor may prescribe:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs: These drugs can help reduce inflammation and control your pain.
- Corticosteroids: This steroid medication is applied on the outside of your skin or injected into your heel. It is used to decrease inflammation and pain.
- Physical therapy: You may benefit from a physical therapy protocol designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles in your foot and lower leg. In addition, a physical therapist can teach you how to apply athletic tape that can provide better support, and thus reduce your pain.
- Night splint: A night splint can be beneficial if you are suffering from plantar fasciitis. Over time, it will stretch and lengthen your plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.
- Extracorporeal shock wave therapy: This therapy passes sound waves over the painful area to stimulate healing, and can be helpful when other treatments do not work.
- Surgery: In rare cases, surgery might be required to address the pain.
Preventing Heel Pain
Sometimes heel pain is unavoidable, but there are still some things you can do to try to avoid it.
- Avoid walking around barefoot, particularly when you are on hard surfaces.
- Maintain a healthy weight, as obesity puts more stress on your heels.
- Wear proper footwear, especially when participating in fitness activities.
- Warm up properly before engaging in sports activities.
- Rest if your heels start to bother you.
Countryside Orthopaedics Can Help
If you are experiencing heel pain, contact Countryside today to schedule an appointment. Whether you need custom-fit orthotics or physical therapy, our skilled staff can diagnose the cause of your pain and recommend a treatment that’s right for you. We’ll get you back to the activities you love!