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THE FACTS ON HEEL PAIN:

WHAT IS HEEL PAIN?

Heel pain is any type of pain or discomfort that occurs in or under the heel. Heel pain may also occur along the back of the heel. Foot pain in the heel may feel like a mild ache or the pain may be more intense. In some cases, heel pain can be mild in the beginning and then progress to more intense pain over time. In other cases, heel pain may be sharp and severe, occurring suddenly.

Foot heel pain may crop up when standing, walking or engaging in sports. The heel area may feel tender to the touch. In some cases, the area surrounding the heel may be swollen.

WHAT CAUSES HEEL PAIN?

What causes heel pain?

There are many different causes of heel pain. Some of the most common include:

Plantar fasciitis  Usually the result of overuse, plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia (a ligament located along the bottom of the foot) becomes inflamed. Plantar fasciitis typically produces a sharp pain in or underneath the heel. Usually the bottom of heel pain is most severe first thing in the morning after getting out of bed.

Achilles tendinitis  Like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis is typically an overuse injury. The issue stems from damage and inflammation in the Achilles tendon, which attaches the muscles in the calf to the heel bone in the foot. Achilles heel pain usually begins as a dull ache just above the back of the heel. While the pain may start out mild, it can intensify over time or following strenuous physical activity. The area around the back of the heel may feel stiff and swollen. There can be back of heel pain when walking if a shoe rubs against the back of the tender heel area.

Achilles tendon rupture  Unlike Achilles tendinitis, an Achilles tendon rupture is an injury that’s typically caused by a specific event such as a swift, forceful movement when playing sports. When the Achilles tendon is ruptured, there’s usually a sudden, severe and sharp pain in the lower leg above the heel. Some people report that it feels like they were kicked in the calf.

Heel bone bruise  The heel bone can become bruised due to some kind of an event that causes forceful impact to the heel bone, such as landing hard after jumping or falling, or stepping on a hard object such as a rock. A heel bone bruise can cause pain and tenderness in the heel area. There may be swelling and it’s possible to have discoloration although many heel bone bruises don’t produce visible symptoms.

Heel bursitis — The joints of the body are cushioned with bursae, fluid-filled pouches that lubricate and cushion. If inflammation occurs in the bursa of the ankle, it can cause pain in the back of the heel, between the heel bone and Achilles tendon. The condition can cause pain and tenderness along with swelling.

Heel spurs — Also known as bone spurs, heel spurs are bony growths that form on the heel bone. While some heel spurs produce no symptoms, in some cases, the heel may feel tender to the touch and there may be heel spur pain when standing or walking. Some heel spurs form a bump that can be felt or seen from the outside.

Heel bone fracture  A fracture of the heel bone typically occurs as the result of a traumatic accident such as a car accident or a fall from a considerable height. This type of injury produces immediate intense pain and requires prompt medical attention.

While anyone can suffer from discomfort in the heel area, there are factors that can increase the risk of heel pain, including:

Excess weight — Carrying extra pounds puts stress on the lower body, including the feet. This increases the risk of heel pain.

High-impact sports  Repeated stress on the feet from high-impact sports that involve running and jumping can lead to heel pain.

Structural issues of the foot — Conditions such as flat feet and high arches can affect how body weight is distributed across the feet, potentially leading to heel pain.

Hard surfaces —Standing for extended periods on hard surfaces can contribute to heel pain over time.

Improper shoes  Wearing shoes that don’t have adequate support or cushioning can cause stress to the feet, potentially causing heel pain.

HOW TO HELP PREVENT HEEL PAIN

It’s not always possible to prevent heel pain as an unexpected accident or injury may occur. However, there are ways to reduce the risk of heel pain from overuse injuries and repeated stress.

Limit high-impact activity  Avoid overdoing it when it comes to high-impact sports. Allow your body to recover between workouts and consider swapping in low-impact workouts several times a week to reduce pressure on the feet.

Lose weight — If you’re overweight, dropping even a few pounds can take pressure off the feet and lessen the chances of heel pain.

Wear appropriate shoes — Select shoes that are designed specifically for your intended activity. Make sure the shoes have good support and cushioning.

Add orthotics and insoles — Give your shoes additional reinforcement with orthotics or insoles for heel pain and arch support. Heel pain relief insoles help redistribute weight to alleviate stress on the feet. Dr. Scholl’s® Orthotics for Heel Pain feature Shock Guard® technology to absorb shock and protect the heels from painful impact. Dr. Scholl’s® Plantar Fasciitis Pain Relief Sized to Fit Insoles provide targeted arch support to protect the plantar fascia from stretching, which can lead to further injury. Also consider Dr. Scholl’s® Custom Fit® Orthotics for a customized solution.

Prepare properly for exercise — Introduce a new exercise slowly. Be sure to warm up and stretch the calves out thoroughly before starting your workout. Always increase the intensity of your workouts gradually, giving your body time to adapt.

HOW TO RELIEVE HEEL PAIN

Heel pain can often be addressed effectively with at-home self-care remedies.

Ice Cold therapy can help reduce heel pain and swelling. It can be especially helpful right after a workout when the heel area may be particularly sore and tender. Apply an ice pack directly to the heel area for up to 20 minutes.

Rest It’s important to take it easy and allow your heel pain to resolve. You may need to avoid certain types of activity for a while. Consider low-impact sports like swimming and cycling to avoid stressing a painful heel.

Stretching and strengthening  Exercises geared at stretching and strengthening specific muscles in the lower leg may help provide relief from heel pain. Ask a physical therapist for guidance.

Pain relievers Over-the-counter pain relievers can reduce heel pain. Aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen can also help with inflammation.

Heel inserts  If heel pain is making it uncomfortable to walk, consider placing heel inserts in your shoes. Dr. Scholl’s® Massaging Gel® Heel Cups cradle and cushion tender heels with Massaging Gel® technology. These heel cups are designed to absorb painful shock while preventing shoe rubbing and slippage that can irritate and cause pain in the back of the heel.

See your doctor if you have severe heel pain or if your heel pain doesn’t improve with at-home remedies. Some conditions that cause heel pain require medical attention.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What causes pain in the heel of foot?

There are a number of potential causes of pain in the heel of the foot. The most common causes are plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis, general heel pain can develop due to aggravation of the heel area. This can occur more readily as we age and the fat pad that protects our heel bone degrades.

Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation in a band of connective tissue called the plantar fascia which connects the toes to the heel bone. The pain from plantar fasciitis is most commonly felt in or near the bottom of the heel.

Achilles tendonitis is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon which is the tendon that’s located at the bottom of the back of the calf, just above the back of the heel. The Achilles tendon connects the muscle of the calf to the heel bone. Pain from Achilles tendonitis is typically felt in the back of the heel.
There are also other causes of heel pain including:

Achilles tendon rupture – In addition to Achilles tendonitis, a rupture in the Achilles tendon can cause heel pain. The pain from a ruptured Achilles tendon is typically felt just above the back of the heel. Once the achilles ruptures, it no longer imparts pain to the heel. It is the stretching of the achilles that pulls on the heel prior to rupture can lead to pain being sensed in the heel and at the site of achilles stretch.

Heel spurs – In some cases, heel spurs can cause heel pain although oftentimes heel spurs are painless. Heel spurs are bony growths that form on the heel bone due to calcium deposits. Pain from heel spurs is similar to pain associated with plantar fasciitis.

Stress fractures – It’s common for people who engage in sports that involve regular jumping and running to experience stress fractures, very small cracks in the bone typically caused by repetitive stress.

Arthritis – Certain types of arthritis such as rheumatoid arthritis can contribute to heel pain.

Bursitis – Heel pain can be caused by bursitis, an inflammation of the bursae, fluid-filled sacs which lubricate and cushion the joints.

What to do for heel pain

If you have heel pain that doesn’t go away and is interfering with your daily activities, see a doctor in order to determine the cause of the heel pain and for guidance on how to relieve heel pain. There’s no easy way to fix heel pain. It’s common for doctors to recommend starting with lifestyle changes and conservative therapies and treatment options such as:

Rest – Taking pressure off of the heel with rest is a classic way to get rid of heel pain. Although it’s difficult to stop heel pain completely, you can experience significant improvements by simply staying off of your feet as much as you can to give the pain time to resolve.

Ice – Regular icing of the foot can help to heal heel pain by reducing inflammation. You can ice up to 20 minutes at a time and repeat several times a day.

Stretching exercises – Regular stretching can often be beneficial for heel pain, especially for the primary causes of heel pain which are plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis. A physical therapist can help demonstrate a number of effective stretching exercises based on your needs.

Inserts, orthotics and insoles – Using inserts, orthotics and insoles with shoes can be helpful for reducing heel pain. These products add support and cushioning to help minimize stress on the feet.

Pain relievers – Ask your healthcare provider if it’s safe to take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen to help heel pain.

In cases where heel pain doesn’t improve with conservative solutions, a doctor can recommend other options such as prescription drugs, cortisone injections or surgery if necessary to treat heel pain.

How to walk in heels without pain

If it’s painful to walk in heels, it’s best to minimize the amount of time wearing the heels in order to reduce pressure on the feet. Cushions and inserts specially designed for use in high heels are available. These products can help reduce pressure and ease pain.

What causes pain in the back of the heel?

The most common cause of pain in the back of the heel is Achilles tendonitis. This is an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the tendon that connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. There may be other causes of pain in the back of the heel as well. If you your pain is severe and doesn’t go away, it’s important to see a doctor.

What causes heel pain when walking?

There are a number of reasons why you might experience heel pain when walking. Although the pressure that’s exerted on the feet when walking may worsen the pain, the walking itself may not be the underlying cause of heel pain. Plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis are the most common sources of heel pain but there are other possible causes as well including certain types of arthritis, bursitis, stress fractures and heel spurs.

How to relieve heel spur pain

Ask your healthcare provider for guidance on how to relieve heel spur pain. Many doctors recommend starting with lifestyle changes and conservative treatments that include ice and rest, shoe inserts or orthotics, stretching exercises, night splints and over-the-counter pain relievers. In cases where the pain from heel spurs is intense and doesn’t improve despite best efforts, a doctor may prescribe medication. Cortisone injections and surgery may also be recommended for more serious cases of bone spurs.