Your foot and ankle are 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 or podiatrist to diagnose the cause.
There are several common causes of heel pain.
- Plantar fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis occurs when too much pressure on your feet damages the plantar fascia ligament, causing pain and stiffness. Read more about it here.
- Sprains and strains: Sprains and strains are injuries to the body, often resulting from physical activity. These injuries are common and can range from minor to severe, depending on the incident. Learn more about sprains and strains here.
- Fracture: A fracture is a broken bone. Learn about the risk factors, symptoms, and treatments for different types of fracture. This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.
- Achilles tendonitis: Achilles tendonitis occurs when the tendon that attaches the calf muscles to the heel becomes painful or inflamed due to overuse injuries. Find out how this condition is diagnosed and treated.
- Bursitis: Bursae are fluid-filled sacs found about your joints. They surround the areas where tendons, skin, and muscle tissues meet bones. Learn about symptoms, causes, and treatments.
- Ankylosing spondylitis: Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that primarily affects your spine. It causes severe inflammation of the vertebrae that might eventually lead to chronic pain and disability. Read more about ankylosing spondylitis here.
- Osteochondroses: Osteochondroses directly affect the growth of bones in children and adolescents. Learn more about these disorders.
- Reactive arthritis: Reactive arthritis is a type of arthritis triggered by an infection in the body. Find out more about its causes, symptoms, and possible treatments.
See your doctor
If you develop heel pain, you may first try some 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 a night splint, a special device that stretches the foot while you sleep
- use heel lifts 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, but 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, yet 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