Suffering from pain in the heel of your foot? You’ll need to identify the cause of your discomfort before you can take steps to treat the soreness and improve your mobility.
What actually causes heel pain?
Pain in the heel is usually caused by too much stress being placed on the tissues of the bottom of the foot. Stress can occur from a range of factors, including:
Carrying excess weight. If you’re overweight, you will naturally be placing more pressure on your feet as you go about your activities.
If you’re always on your feet, you’ll find that your lower limbs will be more susceptible to foot fatigue – and you’ll be experiencing all-too-familiar burning sensation in your heel on a daily basis.
Unsuitable shoes. If you wear footwear that doesn’t offer adequate support for your feet, your heels will need to absorb much of the shock from standing and walking, which will damage and weaken them over time.
High arched feet or flat feet. Those of you with naturally arched or flat feet are at extra risk of developing heel pain.
If you’re suffering from ongoing pain in your heel, you may also have fallen victim to one of the following common conditions:
Plantar fasciitis occurs when tiny tears start to appear on the surface of the fibrous band of tissue that stretches all the way from your heel to your toes (which is medically known as the plantar fascia). These tears cause the tissue to thicken, which in turn leads to stabbing pains in the heel.
Plantar fasciitis tends to be worse in the morning, or after long periods of sitting.
Heel spurs form on the underside of the heel bone. They’re caused by a build-up of calcium deposits.
Heel spurs have been wrongly associated with plantar fasciitis in the past. Medical professionals used to think that heel spurs caused damage to the plantar fascia, but in fact, it’s the other way around: overstretching this band of tissue can lead to the formation of a bony protrusion underneath the foot.
Continuous physical activity, including running, jogging and jumping, can lead to inflammation in the Achilles tendon. This tendon attaches your calf muscles to your heel bone. Poor quality, unsupportive shoes can also exacerbate the condition.
Fractures, sprains and strains
A broken bone could be to blame for your ongoing heel pain; less serious sprains and strains to the muscle and ligaments in the foot could also be contributing to your discomfort.
Bursitis refers to the inflammation and swelling of a bursa, which is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between the skin and the surrounding the joints.
In rarer cases, you may have fallen victim to the below:
This is a type of bone infection that is more likely to develop in smokers and those with diabetes or kidney conditions. Accompanying symptoms include fever and fatigue.
This type of arthritis is caused by an infection that is triggered by the body’s response to bacteria. Heel pain is just one symptom of reactive arthritis – when you develop the condition, your eyes may become inflamed, you may develop skin rashes, and you may find you also have urethritis.
Even if you are convinced that your heel pain is being caused by one or more of the above conditions, it’s important to see your doctor for their professional opinion.
Top tips for a faster recovery from heel pain
So we’ve explored the many different causes of heel pain – but what can we do to tackle the condition?
Use an ice pack. A cold compress will serve to reduce the swelling and inflammation in the area, and will go some way to reducing the pain.
Take pain relief. If you need to deal with heel pain in the short term, taking ibuprofen will help. However, if you find yourself having to take painkillers for more than a few days, visit your doctor.
Rest! One of the best ways to soothe heel pain is to simply rest up for a few days. Make sure you don’t place any weight or strain on your legs and feet to give your heels a chance to recover.
Stretch your feet. There are plenty of basic exercises that will stretch out the plantar fascia and loosen up the other muscles and tendons in the feet. To start with, take a look at these 6 quick exercises to strengthen your feet.
Wear supportive insoles. Sturdy shoe inserts will provide better support to your feet and will take away much of the strain you’re placing on your heels. Orthotic insoles have been proven to be particularly effective in the fight against heel pain.
If the above advice doesn’t provide you with the results you’re hoping for, and your heel pain shows no sign of disappearing, do seek medical advice as soon as possible.