Heel Pain is pain in the heel area that can vary in severity and location. It is most common in adults. The heel is the first bone to contact the ground when walking and takes the full force of impact and the resulting shock of bearing weight during motion.
There are many reasons why people experience heel pain. Based on what we see in our office, heel pain affects, probably more than one in every four people. A lot of this is caused from conditions within the foot. These conditions could be related to hyper pronation, which is where you get a collapse of the foot or even a high arch of the foot called cavus foot. The underlying cause is something internal, within the bone structure. These problems are usually something you will have all your life. Hyper pronation is a hereditary issue where you can get an under development of a particular bone, usually in the ankle, and it causes a dislocation or a misalignment of the ankle on the heel. It throws off, not only the foot with the bones, joints and ligaments of the foot, but also the bones in the ankle. It affects the internal rotation of the knee, hip, back and causes issues within those areas as well. Hyper pronation is a pretty common, but very under diagnosed condition.
Pain in the heel can be caused by many things. The commonest cause is plantar fascitis. Other causes include, being overweight, constantly being on your feet, especially on a hard surface like concrete and wearing hard-soled footwear, thinning or weakness of the fat pads of the heel, injury to the bones or padding of the heel, arthritis in the ankle or heel (subtalar) joint, irritation of the nerves on the inner or outer sides of the heel, fracture of the heel bone (calcaneum).
Your GP or podiatrist (a healthcare professional who specialises in foot care) may be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and examining your heel and foot. You will usually only need further tests if you have additional symptoms that suggest the cause of your heel pain is not inflammation, such as numbness or a tingling sensation in your foot - this could be a sign of nerve damage in your feet and legs (peripheral neuropathy), your foot feels hot and you have a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above - these could be signs of a bone infection, you have stiffness and swelling in your heel - this could be a sign of arthritis. Possible further tests may include, blood tests, X-rays - where small doses of radiation are used to detect problems with your bones and tissues, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or ultrasound scan, which are more detailed scans.
Non Surgical Treatment
Curing posterior heel pain requires calming the inflammation, resting the foot and increasing calf flexibility. Ice therapy and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to reduce the inflammation. Stopping exercises that stress the calf and Achilles is important. This includes walking, running and the use of stair climbers and elliptical machines. Placing a heel lift in each shoe can reduce some of the excess strain on the back of the heel. Stretching exercises to increase calf flexibility are important in curing this problem and preventing its recurrence. Wearing running shoes also provides good foot support and helps with this condition. Sometimes a walking boot is used to immobilize the ankle and let the area completely rest. Physical therapy is sometimes ordered to help reduce the inflammation and pain and to help improve the flexibility of the calf muscles. Occasionally these measures fail to relieve the pain and surgery may be needed. The surgical procedure involves removing bone spurs and repairing any damage to the tendon.
It is rare to need an operation for heel pain. It would only be offered if all simpler treatments have failed and, in particular, you are a reasonable weight for your height and the stresses on your heel cannot be improved by modifying your activities or footwear. The aim of an operation is to release part of the plantar fascia from the heel bone and reduce the tension in it. Many surgeons would also explore and free the small nerves on the inner side of your heel as these are sometimes trapped by bands of tight tissue. This sort of surgery can be done through a cut about 3cm long on the inner side of your heel. Recently there has been a lot of interest in doing the operation by keyhole surgery, but this has not yet been proven to be effective and safe. Most people who have an operation are better afterwards, but it can take months to get the benefit of the operation and the wound can take a while to heal fully. Tingling or numbness on the side of the heel may occur after operation.
You can help to prevent heel pain by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch of the foot and cushion the heel. If you are prone to plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon (heel cord) and plantar fascia may help to prevent the area from being injured again. You also can massage the soles of your feet with ice after stressful athletic activities. Sometimes, the only interventions needed are a brief period of rest and new walking or running shoes.