If you’re experiencing heel pain, you’re not alone.
Whether your pain is severe, chronic, dull, or aching, the goal is the same: relief and healing. However, choosing the correct treatment for your heel pain requires carefully evaluating your symptoms and understanding the likely cause.
Foot Conditions That Cause Heel Pain
Heel pain is the hallmark symptom in a variety of foot conditions:
Bursitis of the Heel:
Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that cushion and lubricate joints in the body. When the retrocalcaneal bursa on the back of the heel becomes inflamed and irritated, bursitis of the heel develops, resulting in redness, tenderness, and pain where the heel meets the Achilles tendon.
Learn More About Bursitis of the Heel.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome:
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome develops when the tibial nerve is pinched or constricted in a tunnel that connects the ankle and the foot, reducing blood flow and causing inflammation (think of it as carpal tunnel syndrome of the foot). Risk factors include arthritis, obesity, and heel spurs.
Learn More About Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome.
Also known as “pump bump,” Haglund’s Deformity causes a painful lump to form at the back of the heel, usually due to ill-fitting or unsupportive footwear.
Learn More About Haglund’s Deformity.
Posterior Tibial Tendonitis:
This condition is caused by irritation and overuse of the posterior tibial tendon, and manifests as pain on the inside of the foot, heel, ankle, and shin. If standing on one foot while trying to raise your heel off the ground causes a lot of pain, you may have posterior tibial tendonitis.
Learn More About Posterior Tibial Tendonitis.
Osteomyelitis of the Heel:
Osteomyelitis of the heel is an uncommon bone infection that causes pain in the joint, as well as fever and lethargy. This condition is most common in children with accelerated bone growth and individuals with diabetes.
Learn More About Osteomyelitis of the Heel.
Could My Heel Pain Be Plantar Fasciitis?
While it’s true that many conditions can cause heel pain, the American Academy of Family Physicians cites Plantar Fasciitis as the the number one cause of heel pain. Each year, more than 2 million people are treated for this common–and very painful–condition.
If your heel pain is worst in the morning and is localized along the bottom of your foot from the heel to the ball area, it’s very likely that you are suffering from Plantar Fasciitis.
What Is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar Fasciitis is a progressive condition that affects the main ligament spanning the heel, arch and ball area of your foot. This stretchy, flexible ligament is called the Plantar Fascia. You can think of the Plantar Fascia as the “spring in your step”, like a trampoline that is designed to bear weight and absorb the impact of walking, running, and jumping.
Plantar Fasciitis develops when this ligament is damaged or strained, compromising its ability to bear weight and distribute impact. The result is heel pain (also known as “calcaneus pain.”)
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Common Causes of Plantar FasciitisPlantar Fasciitis is most often caused by strain, injury, or overuse that results in micro-injuries and small tears to the Plantar Fascia ligament. If left untreated, these tiny tears and injuries gradually erode the Plantar Fascia’s ability to properly distribute weight and absorb impact. In response to this trauma, the body may form tiny calcium deposits, known as Heel Spurs, in an attempt to support the compromised arch. As these sharp deposits grow, they can dig into the soft, fatty tissue that cushions your heel, causing sore heels and inflammation. The following risk factors are known to damage the arch of the foot and cause Plantar Fasciitis:
- An irregular gait that causes uneven weight distribution while you walk (pronation)
- Weight gain (including weight gain from pregnancy) which places additional strain and pressure on the Plantar Fascia ligament
- The aging process, which can result in reduced strength and flexibility in the Plantar Fascia
- High-impact exercise (walking, running, jumping) that exposes the heel to pounding and pressure without adequate rest periods
- Working conditions that require long periods of standing or repeated lifting of heavy objects
- Wearing ill-fitting or worn shoes that don’t properly cushion or support the arch
- The normal aging process, which can result in a loss of ligament elasticity
- Flat feet or high arches
Symptoms of Heel Pain Caused By Plantar FasciitisWhile a variety of conditions cause heel pain, the telltale symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis will help you and your doctor identify this common ailment. Plantar Fasciitis may develop gradually or have a sudden onset, and the condition may present itself in one or both feet. Symptoms are typically mild at first and gradually worsen as the Plantar Fascia ligament sustains further strain and damage. If you are experiencing any of the following symptoms, it’s important to seek treatment quickly, as these symptoms often become worse if left untreated:
- A tenderness that is primarily localized in the bottom of the heel
- Pain in only one heel, or pain in both heels
- Heel pain that is worst in the morning, or after long periods of inactivity
- Heel pain that improves somewhat after standing or walking around
- Dull, aching pain in the foot or severe heel pain that is stabbing and intense
- Feelings of heat in the heel or redness on the skin near the heel
- Heel pain that seems to get worse as you age
- Heel pain that coincides with obesity or rapid weight gain
- Limping or pain from bearing weight on the affected foot
- Heel pain that is aggravated by long periods of standing, or high-impact activities