Heel Pain (Plantar Fasciitis) Heel pain is most often caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition that is sometimes also called heel spur syndrome when a spur is present. Heel pain may also be due to other causes, such as a stress fracture, tendonitis, arthritis, nerve irritation or, rarely, a cyst.
Your foot and ankle are made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons. The heel is the largest bone in your foot.
If you overuse or injure your heel, you may experience heel pain. This can range from mild to disabling. In many cases, if you have heel pain, you will need a doctor or podiatrist to diagnose the cause.
Heel pain has a number of causes that are typically associated with overuse of the heel bone. You can strain your heel by pounding your feet on hard surfaces, being overweight, or wearing shoes that do not fit properly.
These strains can irritate the heel’s bones, muscles, or tendons. Other common causes of heel pain include the following conditions.
Heel spurs develop when the lining that covers the heel is continuously stretched. When this occurs, pieces of the lining may break off. Heel spurs typically develop in athletes who frequently run or jog. They are also common in people who are obese.
Plantar fasciitis develops when the tendinous tissue connecting the heel to the ball of the foot becomes inflamed. Plantar fasciitis also occurs in athletes who frequently run or jog. It can also result from wearing shoes that do not fit properly.
Excessive pronation is a condition where the foot rolls inward (toward the arch) and the ligaments and tendons at the back of the heel are stretched too much. This can occur when injuries to the back, hips, or knees change the way you walk.
Achilles tendinitis can result from inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which runs along the back of the heel. This condition is common in people with active lifestyles who frequently run or jog, professional athletes, and frequent dancers.
If you develop heel pain, you may first try some home remedies, such as rest, to ease your symptoms. If your heel pain does not get better within two to three weeks, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
You should call your doctor immediately if:
Heel pain is a common foot condition. It’s usually felt as an intense pain when using the affected heel.
Heel pain usually builds up gradually and gets worse over time. The pain is often severe and occurs when you place weight on your heel.
In most cases, only one heel is affected, although estimates suggest that around a third of people have pain in both heels.
The pain is usually worse first thing in the morning, or when you first take a step after a period of inactivity. Walking usually improves the pain, but it often gets worse again after walking or standing for a long time.
Some people may limp or develop an abnormal walking style as they try to avoid placing weight on the affected heel.
Most cases of heel pain are caused when a band of tissue in the foot, known as the plantar fascia, becomes damaged and thickens.
Plantar fasciitis is the medical term for the thickening of the plantar fascia.
The plantar fascia is a tough and flexible band of tissue that runs under the sole of the foot. It connects the heel bone with the bones of the foot, and acts as a kind of shock absorber to the foot.
Sudden damage, or damage that occurs over many months or years, can cause tiny tears (microtears) to develop inside the tissue of the plantar fascia. This can cause the plantar fascia to thicken, resulting in heel pain.
The surrounding tissue and the heel bone can also sometimes become inflamed.
Read more about the causes of heel pain.
See your GP or a podiatrist (foot problems specialist) if you’ve had persistent heel pain for a number of weeks and it hasn’t cleared up despite trying the self-help measures listed below. They should be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and medical history and examining your heel and foot.
Further tests will only usually be needed if you have additional symptoms that suggest the cause of your heel pain isn’t inflammation, such as:
Heel pain is a very common foot problem. The sufferer usually feels pain either under the heel (plantar fasciitis) or just behind it (Achilles tendinitis), where the Achilles tendon connects to the heel bone.
Even though heel pain can be severe and sometimes disabling, it is rarely a health threat. Heel pain is typically mild and usually disappears on its own; however, in some cases the pain may persist and become chronic (long-term).
There are 26 bones in the human foot, of which the heel (calcaneus) is the largest. The human heel is designed to provide a rigid support for the weight of the body. When we are walking or running it absorbs the impact of the foot when it hits the ground, and springs us forward into our next stride. Experts say that the stress placed on a foot when walking may be 1.25 times our body weight, and 2.75 times when running. Consequently, the heel is vulnerable to damage, and ultimately pain.
In the majority of cases, heel pain has a mechanical cause. It may also be caused byarthritis, infection, an autoimmune problem trauma, a neurological problem, or some other systemic condition (condition that affects the whole body).
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Fast facts on heel pain
Here are some key points about heel pain. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
Heel pain is not usually caused by a single injury, such as a twist or fall, but rather the result of repetitive stress and pounding of the heel.
Common causes of heel pain include:
A heel pain sufferer commonly feels pain either under the heel (plantar fasciitis) or just behind it (Achilles tendinitis).
Heel pain may also be caused by:
If you develop heel pain, you can try several methods at home to ease your discomfort. For example:
If these home care strategies do not ease your pain, you will need to see your doctor. He or she will perform a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms and when they began. Your doctor may also take an X-ray to determine the cause of your heel pain. Once your doctor knows what is causing your pain, he or she will be able to provide you with the appropriate treatment.
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.
In very rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the problem, but heel surgery often requires a long recovery time and may not always relieve your foot pain.
Heel pain can be disabling and affect your daily movements. It may also change the way that you walk. If this happens, you may be more likely to lose your balance and fall, making you more prone to other injuries.
It may not be possible to prevent all cases of heel pain, yet there are some easy steps that you can take to avoid injury to the heel and prevent pain. Whenever possible, you should:
There are a number of treatments that can help relieve heel pain and speed up your recovery. These include:
Around four out of five cases of heel pain resolve within a year. However, having heel pain for this length of time can often be frustrating and painful.
In about one in 20 cases, the above treatments aren’t enough and surgery may be needed to release the plantar fascia.
Read more about treating heel pain.
Being overweight can place excess pressure and strain on your feet, particularly on your heels. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy, balanced diet can be beneficial for your feet.
Wearing appropriate footwear is also important. Ideally, you should wear shoes with a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes without heels