Your foot is 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 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.
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 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 occurs when the ligaments and tendons at the back of the heel are stretched too much. This condition can occur when injuries to the back, hips, or knees change the way you walk.
Achilles tendinitis can occur when the Achilles tendon, which runs along the back of the heel, becomes inflamed. This condition is common in people with active lifestyles who frequently run and jog, professional athletes and dancers.
If you develop heel pain, you may first try some at-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:
- your pain is severe
- the pain starts suddenly
- you have redness in your heel
- you have swelling in your heel
- you cannot walk because of the pain in your heel
If you develop heel pain, you can try several methods at home to ease your discomfort. For example:
- rest as much as possible
- apply ice to the heel for 10 to 15 minutes twice a day
- use over-the-counter pain medications
- wear shoes that fit properly
- wear night splints, a special device that stretches the foot while you sleep
- use heel cups or shoe inserts to reduce pain
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. However, 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. However, there are some easy steps that you can take to avoid injury to the heel and prevent pain. Whenever possible, you should:
- wear shoes that fit properly and support the foot
- wear the right shoes for physical activity
- stretch your muscles before exercising
- pace yourself during physical activity
- maintain a healthy diet
- rest when you feel tired or when your muscles ache
- maintain a healthy weight