Common Heel Pain Causes
The most frequent underlying cause of heel pain is overuse or overexertion. This could be related to one or many factors:
- Running too often, on hard surfaces, or difficult terrain—especially if you haven’t properly prepared your body. Working on your feet all day can contribute, too.
- Your shoes don’t provide the cushioning or support you need for your activity.
- Structure or biomechanics. Some feet may simply be more prone to developing soreness and pain, due to structural problems such as flat arches or thin fat pads on the heels. Poor biomechanics or gait could also be at fault—for example, landing too hard on your heel when you stride, or too much ankle rotation during the loading phase.
Common DiagnosesA number of clinical diagnoses can cause painful symptoms in and around the heel.
- Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain along the underside of the heel, and is the result of a damaged plantar fascia ligament. The plantar fascia tightens up at night, so the first steps of the morning often cause sharp pain.
- Achilles tendinitis affects the back of the heel, specifically the “heel cord” behind the ankle. It is caused by swelling and inflammation in the tendon that connects the heel bone to the calf muscle.
- Bursitis symptoms are very similar to those of Achilles tendinitis. However, the cause of this condition is inflamed bursae, which are fluid-filled pads that cushion muscles and tendons near the heel.
- Heel spurs are bony projections that form at the front of the heel bone and point toward the arch. They may form in response to chronic plantar fasciitis, and are not always painful on their own. They can be detected via X-ray.
- Compressed nerves, also known as pinched nerves, can lead to tingling or burning pain in the heels and feet. Nerves that run through narrow tubes and tunnels in the ankle are especially vulnerable to physical pinching or obstruction.
Treating Heel Pain
Home CareWhenever you notice heel pain beginning to develop, you may wish to attempt home treatment first. Taking care of yourself as soon as possible can help you prevent heel pain from progressing to a more serious stage.
- Slow down, avoid strenuous physical activities that cause pain. Prop your feet up or rest them on a pillow when you sit or sleep.
- If you notice swelling, try applying ice for about 15 minutes, 2-3 times per day.
- Avoid shoes that are too tight (or too loose), don’t support your feet, don’t cushion your heel, or just aren’t appropriate for your chosen activity.
Further Care Options
If heel pain is severe, or keeps returning despite home care, you may need further care from our team. We always start with conservative treatments, which may include options such as:
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Physical therapy
- Cortisone injections
- Laser therapy
In many cases, once the painful symptoms have been reduced or eliminated, we will prescribe custom orthotics to correct the underlying biomechanical issues causing heel pain in the first place. These devices are custom-molded to the exact shape of your feet, and slide right into your shoes. They place your feet in a more natural position and improve ergonomics and alignment throughout your entire skeleton—not just your feet.
Most of our patients respond positively to conservative treatments; surgery is only rarely necessary. The longer you wait to receive treatment, however, the more likely your condition will become chronic and require more aggressive intervention.
At Community Foot Clinic of McPherson, we understand the difficulty of heel pain. Call 620-241-3313 or request an appointment online today!