There are 26 bones in the human foot, of which the heel is the largest. Besides the heel bone, there are several ligaments, tendons, and muscles which can affect the way the heel works and feels.
Heel pain can be caused by several different things. Some heel pain stems from an obvious injury while other pain is caused by a condition that builds up over time. Regardless of what is causing your heel pain, it is almost always made better by rest, ice, and/or anti-inflammatory medicine. If these options do not work, a podiatrist (foot doctor) should be contacted.
General heel pain is often not caused by a medical malfunction, but is rather a sign of abnormal stress in the area of the heel. This can be caused by wearing the wrong kind of shoe, walking barefoot (especially on hard or uneven surfaces), or being overweight. When measures are taken to prevent or change these situations, individuals will often see a marked decrease in their pain.
An obvious cause for heel pain is an injury to the heel, often during walking, running, jumping or various other physical activities where you might land incorrectly. There are several ways to prevent heel pain of this origin, including stretching each foot, Achilles tendon and calf muscle before beginning exercise. It is also important to purchase high quality shoes appropriate for the activity which you will be pursuing, and to replace them often.
Another common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. This occurs when the plantar fascia, a band of connective tissue running along the bottom of the foot, is strained over time and becomes inflamed. A telltale sign of this condition is the pain is worst upon waking in the morning the first step out of bed is often excruciatingly painful and the pain subsides throughout the day. This is because the plantar fascia has been resting through the night, and when the foot is placed on the floor, the inflamed tissue is stretched, therefore resulting in the painful first step.
If this condition persists without relief, a podiatrist will often prescribe heel lifts, nighttime leg braces, or physical therapy, with the intention of healing the plantar fascia so the heel pain subsides.
A cause of heel pain that is actually visible by x-ray is a bone spur. A spur is a growth of bone that can occur anywhere in the body, but is especially painful when it settles on the underside of the heel. Walking becomes difficult and results are quickly desired! Occasionally a bone spur is so large and bothersome, surgery is required to remove it.
Common among people who run is a condition called Achilles tendonitis. It is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon which runs behind the ankle and inserts into the top side of the heel. Inactive individuals, the tendon can be strained over time.
The more it is strained, the tighter it gets and this leads to tearing. The stress can occur anywhere along the length of the tendon, or can also settle at the point of the tendon’s insertion into the heel. Occasionally, Achilles tendonitis can actually cause the growth of a bone spur on the back of the heel bone, where the tendon inserts.
Rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicine are often primary care for this condition. If these do not help, a doctor of podiatry should be contacted for further care.
BONE BRUISE OR FRACTURE
Bone bruises can occur when something hard directly impacts the heel. They are very painful but do heal with time and care.Heel fractures are possible, but are far less frequent than a bone bruise.
GENERAL TIPS FOR HEEL PAIN
Lose weight. If you are carrying excessive weight, your foot is working in a different way than it should. If your added weight is from pregnancy, be sure to wear good-fitting, supportive shoes while you are pregnant.
Replace your shoes often. Depending on how active you are, a pair of shoes can be replaced two or three times a year! Do not wear the same shoes every day, and do not keep shoes that show excessive wear.
Stretch before exercising and strive for an exercise program that feels good. Although working out should be work, it should not be painful. Your feet should never hurt when you exercise.
Resist the urge to go barefoot. Heel pain occurs when feet are not properly supported; being barefoot is the least supported way to move.
A doctor of podiatry is the best choice in dealing with any kind of heel pain. If you find the heel pain is not resolving with self care methods of rest, ice, and anti-inflammatory medicine, please make an appointment to see your local podiatrist.