Heel Pain Information – Types, Causes, and Treatment Options
Heel pain—you definitely know what it is, but you’re not really sure what to do about it. That’s the situation most of us find ourselves in. This condition often has elusive causes, and the pain can range from mildly annoying to severe enough to interfere with daily activities. As a result, finding the best treatment can sometimes be a little tricky. So the more you can learn about it, the better off you will be.
Heel Pain Types
Generally, heel pain is classified according to its cause and/or its location on the heel:
- Plantar fasciitis – This is the most common cause of pain in the heel. Plantar fasciitis results from overstretching of the plantar fascia, the ligament bundle that runs from heel to toes on the underside of your foot and supports your arch. Owing to unaccustomed burdens or activity, this ligament is stretched, suffering tiny tears, and becomes inflamed and, consequently, less pliable. The pain is usually located on the forward underside of the heel at the plantar fascia’s insertion and is most pronounced early in the morning or after a period of inactivity.
- Heel spur – Spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis but are not necessarily caused by it. Most often, a spur is a bony calciferous growth—a calcium deposit that has grown over time in response to inflammation and irritation—near the plantar fascia insertion on the forward-facing part of the heel bone. This pointed hook-like projection protrudes into the surrounding tissues and causes pain, which often increases after rest and decreases with activity. A heel spur can also occur on the bottom or back of the heel.
- The side of heel pain – In the case of pain on the side of the heel, the two major culprits are usually stressing fractures and lateral nerve irritation. Runners commonly suffer these conditions and experience this kind of pain. Side heel pain is also sometimes related to plantar fasciitis.
- Back of heel pain – Pain at the back of the heel, or posterior heel pain, is often a result of Achilles tendonitis or retrocalcaneal bursitis, an inflammation of the protective sac of fluid, the bursa, under the heel. This condition is generally caused by a sudden, sharp impact (jumping onto a hard surface, for example) or repeated pounding on a hard surface.
Heel Pain Causes
The causes of heel pain are many and varied. There are, however, a few common, identifiable causes. The most common are probably weight gain, with stress due to vigorous activity like athletics a close second and age third. Additional causes include shoes with poor foot beds, arthritis, nerve entrapment, and abnormal walking positions and gait. Most of the time, pain in the heel can be attributed to trauma, stress, irritation, or all three.
If heel pain affects your walking, occurs at night or during rest, or persists for more than a few days, then you need to seek treatment. Conservative self-treatments include rest, ice packs, stretching, massage, taping the sole of the foot, and anti-inflammatory medications. The goal of these treatments is to control or reduce inflammation and promote healing, to relieve the pain and keep it from recurring.
Heel Pain Treatments
One of the more effective treatments is the use of orthotics and better shoes. Orthotics such as inserts and heel cushions are designed not only to relieve the pain but also to correct the condition causing the pain. Properly fitting shoes with a sturdy, well-designed foot bed and good arch support can go a long way toward relieving pain in the heel. Some athletic shoe makers are now specially designing shoes with additional stability features that will allow people suffering from heel pain to continue playing their favorite sports—or just to function pain-free in their everyday lives. Here’s what to look for in shoes:
- Adequate arch support
- Sufficient padding in the heel area to slightly elevate the heel and absorb shock
- A fit and design that will ensure proper foot alignment and a normal gait when you walk
- A durable, shock-absorbing sole
- Needed extra features such as built-in orthotics, removable insole, or memory foam
You don’t have to suffer from persistently nagging or intermittently stabbing heel pain. Once you’ve determined exactly what kind of pain you have and what’s causing it, you can then find the best treatment.