As the cornerstone of lasting foot health, our heels deserve special attention. Heel pain can be the result of a short-term injury or a more serious problem, but in the early stages it can be difficult to tell the difference. Are you suffering from a sharp pain that extends down the bottom of the heel, an ache that burns on the back of the foot, or something else entirely? Keep reading to learn how to distinguish between the sources of heel pain to make a confident treatment choice.
Foot heel pain can result from a number of causes and can lead to a range of symptoms. When experiencing sharp pain in the heel, the first step is to get a better picture of how the heel works.
The heel bone is surrounded by several muscles, ligaments, and tendons, which all play a part in ensuring a smooth stride. A painful heel can result from problems in the Achilles tendon, plantar ligaments in the arch of the foot, hard growths from the heel bone itself, or other complications.
Since our feet are the foundations of our body, heel and foot pain can quickly turn into a bigger problem if left untreated. The best way to avoid the long-lasting effects of chronic heel pain is to find an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment as soon as possible.
Heel Pain Causes
What causes heel pain? Pain in the heel of the foot can be caused by a number of diseases and injuries. Whether your symptoms are mild or severe, finding the cause of your pain is crucial to determining an effective treatment plan.
Plantar Fasciitis Heel Pain
One of the more common reasons for heel pain is plantar fasciitis, which is a condition that affects the tissues that run along the bottom of the foot. As these tissues become inflamed, pain in the bottom of the heel is a common symptom. Most common among older adults, the disease can usually be treated with exercise and specialty shoe inserts.
Heel Spur Pain
Sometimes associated with plantar fasciitis, heel spurs can intensify already severe heel pain. With a hard calcium deposit that grows out of the the bottom of the heel, pain is localized to this area and is often most severe in the morning.
Luckily, heel spur pain relief can be managed with nonsurgical treatment, including shoe inserts and physical therapy. In about 10% of cases, surgery will be necessary.
Achilles Heel Pain
Achilles tendonitis is the inflammation of the tendon that runs from the heel along the back of the leg. However, the pain can be caused by other existing conditions, such as degenerative muscles or an acute injury. With conditions that affect the back of the heel, pain is the most common symptom, but tenderness, swelling, and redness are also possible.
The bursa is a small, fluid-filled sack that adds an extra layer of cushion to the back of the heel. When this sack becomes inflamed, it can cause a sharp pain that is easily confused with Achilles tendonitis.
In some cases, intense heel pain can be caused by slight differences in the way individuals walk. This could be due to existing deformities, improperly fitted footwear, or personal habits. The most common treatment in these cases is corrective footwear or insoles.
Heel Pain Related Symptoms
Whether you are experiencing mild or extreme heel pain, symptoms can worsen without proper treatment. This could mean increased discomfort, or could lead to other symptoms that affect those with heel and arch pain:
Heel pain in the morning: While we sleep, our foot muscles tighten up, needing a bit of motion before they regain their usual flexibility. This is why severe pain in the heel is at its worst in the morning hours.
Right or left heel pain: It is common to experience left or right heel pain on its own. In fact, common conditions like plantar fasciitis occur in just one foot more than 70% of the time.
Swollen heel pain: Swelling, accompanied by burning heel pain often indicates inflammation. Rest, hot and cold therapy, and exercise can alleviate symptoms.
Heel pain when standing: Sudden heel pain that occurs when standing is most likely caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition that affects the bottom of the foot.
Heel and ankle pain: When pain extends up from the back of the heel to affect a large portion of the lower leg, Achilles tendonitis is the most common culprit.
If your condition persists for more than a week, obtain a heel pain diagnosis from a qualified medical professional. Through a physical exam, X-ray, and MRI scan, your doctor will be able to get a clear picture of your condition.
Heel Pain Treatment
Heel pain remedies come in as many varieties as their potential causes. This can mean quick, on-the-spot treatments to alleviate pain or long-term solutions to tackle the underlying condition. Incorporate several treatments to find the ideal heel pain cure.
The RICE Method
Rest, ice, compression, and exercise are an ideal treatment for heel pain. Avoid putting too much strain on the area, especially if heel pain appeared suddenly. Many cases of heel pain can be cured with time, as long as the condition isn’t given a chance to worsen.
Choosing a quality ice pack is one reliable method of treating heel pain. By slowing blood flow to the area, ice therapy halts inflammation and prevents additional tissue damage. Cold therapy is most effective during the early stages of recovery, and switching to a hot pack after the first day is a good idea.
Cold therapy reduces swelling and inflammation, which relieves heel pain immediately. ( See Product )
Simple foot wraps can be purchased or prepared and are especially effective as an Achilles heel pain treatment. They benefit muscle-related injuries by adding support and reducing swelling.
Heel Pain Exercises
Knowing how to treat heel pain in the short and long term means getting a healthy dose of foot exercises. When experiencing heel pain, running and other high-impact exercises should be avoided. Instead, build strength and mobility through gentle stretches. Below are several options to safely improve foot health.
Achilles Tendon Stretch
If your heel pain is localized to the back of the foot and lower leg, focusing on Achilles tendon exercises is the best choice. One simple stretch requires only a wall and a few minutes.
Stand about 18 inches away from the wall, with palms pressed against it at shoulder height. Take one step toward the wall, leaving your injured heel in the rear position, and bend the front knee slowly. Hold for 30 seconds, and repeat 3 times.
Plantar Ligament Stretch
For pain on the bottom of the heel, choose an exercise that targets the muscles on the bottom of the foot. Place a tennis ball under the arch of the painful foot and apply pressure, rolling the ball beneath the foot. Pay special attention to tender spots. Massage for up to 10 minutes.
A roller ball is the easiest way to get a massage from the comfort of your home, while targeting the knots causing you pain. ( See Product )
Foot Rocker Stretch
For an effective stretch you can perform anywhere, try a foot rocker. Simply place your foot on the rocker and rock back and forth to stretch your foot and calf. Perform this stretch in the morning to prepare your muscles for the day. You'll notice improve mobility and flexibility and reduced pain and stiffness.
Foot rockers help you stretch the muscles and ligaments around your ankle, relieving arch pain. ( See Product )
Heel Pain Insoles
A number of effective insoles and orthopedic options can be used with any shoe. When choosing the best shoes for heel pain, discuss your individual needs with your doctor or an orthopedic specialist.
Heel cups are a good starting place for those new to the world of orthotics. They work by adding a layer of cushion beneath aching heels, absorbing impact while walking, running, or performing daily activities. Since they are small, they can be slipped into almost any shoe.
Heel cups are extremely effective for treating heel pain, and they fit in any type of shoe. ( See Product )
Plantar orthotics support the arch of the foot and relieve strain on important tendons. They are an effective treatment for plantar fasciitis, flat feet, and metatarsal pain.
Heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis is best treated by specially designed insoles. ( See Product )
Since heel pain can affect us at any time, it is important to have access to a variety of heel support options. 3/4-length insoles are made to fit into any size of shoe.
For insoles that fit a variety of shoes, 3/4-length options are versatile and effective. ( See Product )
Additionally, high heel insoles help you keep your feet healthy while wearing your favorite heels.
Using insoles designed for high heels improves the health of your feet and your overall comfort. ( See Product )
Learning how to cure heel pain requires a time investment, regardless of the specific condition. Heel pain is common, and most cases can be resolved in a matter of days. However chronic heel pain is another matter entirely.
In the case of flat feet or other chronic conditions, symptoms may be a lifelong struggle. However, pain can be managed with a combination of orthotics, exercise, and medication.
Taking preventative measures is far better than curing heel pain after the fact. Wearing proper footwear is key to preventing heel pain. Look for proper arch support, and stay away from shoes that dig into the back of the heel. Make sure that there is enough padding to reduce the shock from impact.
Incorporating a variety of foot exercises into an everyday workout routine can be the difference between a life with or without heel pain. Building muscle throughout the body will help defend against injury.
Finding a Way Through Your Heel Pain
Shedding light on the underlying cause of heel pain is important to recovery. Follow an accurate diagnosis with short-term action that includes the RICE method. Careful monitoring and consistent treatment will lead to gradual improvement for acute cases of heel pain. Even those with chronic heel pain can use tools and techniques to make even severe symptoms manageable.
Jessica Hegg is the content manager and at ViveHealth.com. With vast product knowledge and understanding of individual needs, she aims to share valuable information on making smart buying choices, overcoming obstacles and overall improving the quality of life for others. Avid gym-rat and nutrition enthusiast, she’s interested in all things related to staying active and living healthy lifestyle.