Heel Pain 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.

Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot disorder that causes pain in one or both heels. Treatment for plantar fasciitis can include both immediate relief from the pain and long-term solutions to address the underlying causes of plantar fasciitis. Many methods of treatment will accomplish both short-term pain relief and contribute to a longer-term solution.

As soon as you notice the symptoms of plantar fasciitis, you can begin several at home treatments. Applying ice to the heel or arches of the foot can lessen the pain immediately and can help to reduce inflammation. Ice can be applied by holding an ice pack or ice wrapped in a towel can be applied directly to the affected area. Another useful way to apply ice and massage the arches at the same time is to freeze some water in a small plastic bottle and roll the iced bottle along the arch of the foot. Ice should never be applied for longer than fifteen minutes in one session.

Arguably the most important at-home treatment for plantar fasciitis is stretching. Because plantar fasciitis is often the result of not enough flexibility in the plantar fascia, stretching can be highly beneficial. In fact, many physiotherapists and podiatrists will advise specific exercises to help treat the condition. The most common method of stretching is to do a standing lunge against the wall with your back foot approximately two feet from the wall and your front knee slightly bent. Hold this pose for twenty seconds to stretch your calf, and then bend your back knee slightly to stretch your Achilles tendon. This will also help to stretch the plantar fascia. Another way to stretch is to stand on a step or stair with your heels hanging off the edge of the stair. If heel pain is severe when first getting out of bed, try the following stretch: While still lying down, take a towel and place your foot in the middle. Grab onto each end of the towel with your hands and straighten your leg as much as possible, pulling your foot into a flexed position.

Massage is another treatment method that provides relief for some sufferers of plantar fasciitis. The goal of massage is to loosen the plantar fascia, which is the long band of tissue running from the heel to the toes on the underside of the foot. Massage can be done with an ice cylinder, a wooden “foot roller,” a golf ball, or just by using your hands, with essential oils ideal for the job.

Whilst the wrong footwear can contribute to plantar fasciitis, the right footwear can provide short and long-term relief. Make sure that the shoes you wear – especially for walking or running – provide good arch support. The soles of your shoes should be firm, not flexible so that with each step you are not over-stretching your plantar fascia. Many people find wearing a shoe with a slight heel helps to keep the pressure of the heel of the foot and thereby relieves the pain of this condition. It is the same principle that makes heel seats such an effective treatment option.

When at-home approaches to plantar fasciitis do not provide satisfactory results, there are additional treatments that a podiatrist or foot specialist can perform. These treatments include steroid injections into the heel, prescription orthotics for arch support, and as a last resort, surgery. Most doctors would first recommend that an individual exhaust the more conservative at-home treatments outlined above prior to injections, costly orthotics, or surgical interventions.

Read: How to Treat Plantar Fasciitis in The Heel

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.

Cures and Treatment of Heel Spurs

Treatment procedures of heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are identical, although when heel spurs have formed surgery may be required to remove the spurs to allow full healing. Plantar fasciitis and heel spur surgery is a last resort when noninvasive treatments for heel spurs have proved ineffective. Most heel spur treatments are easy to undertake, and need not involve spending money. Many people get cured at home with very little help from medical professionals, with nothing more than rest, plantar fasciitis stretches and a period of abstinence from sports.

Ways to Cure Heel Spurs and Plantar Fasciitis:

  • Complete and thorough Rest – The primary step which will get you well on the road to recovery is resting. You should discontinue jogging and other high impact athletic activities and sit it out. Relaxing and resting the affected foot speeds up the recovery process remarkably. However, stretching is important as during rest the plantar fascia contracts, which can lead to pain as the plantar fascia stretches when the first steps are taken
  • Icing the affected foot – Massaging the foot with ice on regular basis for 15 minutes a day will help soothe the foot and reduce inflammation
  • Perform appropriate exercises – Stretching the plantar fascia twice daily using specific plantar fasciitis stretches to gently stretch the plantar fascia will help to prevent painful episodes and will speed up the healing process
  • Medication and NSAID drugs – Medication that reduces inflammation can be helpful. These medications will provide fairly fast pain relief. Ibuprofen is a good over the counter medication to help ease inflammation. Be sure to read the indications carefully, and do not overdo it. Ibuprofen taken in excess can cause serious health problems
  • Orthotic inserts, orthopedic shoes, heel seats, braces, and splints – These are all effective treatment options made specifically to speed up recovery from heel spurs and plantar fasciitis.

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 from 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.

Read: 4 Tricky Causes Pain in The Back of Your Heel

Heel Pain Causes

The causes of heel pain are many and varied. There are, however, a few common, identifiable causes. The most common is probably weight gain, with stress due to vigorous activity like athletics a close second and age third. Additional causes include shoes with poor footbeds, 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.

Read: 5 Medical Problems That Cause Heel Pain

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 footbed 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.

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Pain in Heel Causes and Treatment, Last Updated: 30/12/2017

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