Our feet can handle heavy loads and tough surfaces. Unfortunately, they aren’t impervious to damage, especially when bunt force drives them into awkward, bumpy surfaces. While not considered serious in most cases, a heel injury can lead to chronic conditions, when a person ignores early symptoms and continues engaging in activities that caused the affliction.
Pain Beneath the Heel
This type of heel pain can originate from various causes, including:
- Plantar fasciitis: Excessive running and jumping can inflame the fascia tissues joining the heel bone to the base of the toes. The pain may start off as mild and then flare up as you take a few steps. If this is the reason for your heel pain, you may need to wear a heel pad in your shoe; do special exercises; and/or take anti-inflammatory medications.
- Heel spurs: Long-term plantar fasciitis can sometimes result in calcium deposits where the fascia joins the heel bone. An x-ray can confirm the presence of a bone spur. In most cases, however, heel spurs are treated the same as plantar fasciitis, with surgery becoming a last resort for chronic symptoms.
- Stone bruises: When you step on a hard object with great force, you can bruise the fatty pad beneath your heel. While painful, these heel injuries typically get better without the need for medical intervention.
Pain Behind the Heel
When pain occurs behind the heel, it may stem from retrocalcaneal bursitis which results from inflammation in the area where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone. Excessive running and inadequate footwear are common causes of this painful condition. In many instances, the pain gradually gets worse as activity continues. Some people may notice thickening skin, redness, swelling or a bump on the backs of their heels.
In most instances, rest and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications can reduce symptoms. Sometimes, however, patients may need to wear open-back shoes and/or heel inserts to reduce pain and hasten recovery. Ice packs can also reduce symptoms. If pain persists, see your healthcare provider to check for potential bone spurs.
When to Seek Help
Too often, people attempt to endure heel pain, when they should seek treatment. Although it may seem like a minor nuisance, heel discomfort can result in compensation injuries resulting from awkward walking or running in an attempt to take pressure off the injury. This can promote ankle, knee and back pain, along with chronic symptoms that can reduce a person’s quality of life. If you’ve been struggling with heel pain, visit your primary care doctor or orthopedic foot and ankle specialist right away to determine an appropriate course of action.