Heel Pain

What is heel pain?

Heel pain is a common problem. Your heels support all of your weight when you are walking or running, and the bones, muscles, nerves, and supporting structures in your foot can get injured.

What is the cause?

Conditions that may cause heel pain are:

  • Plantar fasciitis, which is painful irritation of the tissue on the bottom of the foot between the ball of your foot and your heel
  • A heel spur, which is a buildup of calcium where the tissue on the bottom of the foot connects to the heel bone
  • Achilles tendon injury, which is a problem with the strong band of tissue that connects your heel bone to the muscle in your lower leg
  • Diseases like gout, arthritis, and bursitis that cause irritation and swelling of the joints
  • Psoriasis, which causes a thick, rough, dry buildup of skin

You may start having heel pain from:

  • A lot of running, jumping, walking, or stair-climbing
  • Wearing high heels
  • Gaining weight, which puts stress on your feet
  • Wearing shoes with cleats or hard soles, or shoes that rub against the back of the heel
  • Not stretching before exercise
  • An injury to your heel, such as stepping on something hard like a stone

What are the symptoms?

Your heel may hurt when you walk or put weight on it. It may hurt even when you are resting. The pain may lessen after you have been up for a while and walking, but then the pain may come back after you have been resting.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, activities, and medical history and examine your foot and ankle.

How is it treated?

You will need to change or stop doing the activities that cause pain until your foot has healed. For example, you may need to walk or swim instead of run.

Your healthcare provider may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to help you heal. Exercises to make the foot stronger and to stretch the tendons and tissues around your heel can be very helpful.

Your provider may give you a shot of steroid medicine. Other treatments may include ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or hydrotherapy. Your provider may suggest padding under your heel, shoe inserts, or taping your foot to relieve strain on the tissues.

Surgery is rarely needed for heel pain unless you have a broken bone or severe arthritis. Surgery does not always relieve the pain.

If you get treatment soon after you notice the pain, your symptoms should get better after several weeks. If you have had heel pain for a long time, it may take longer for the pain to go away.

How can I take care of myself?

To keep swelling down and help relieve pain:

  • Rest your heel on an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Keep your foot up on pillows when you sit or lie down.
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.
  • You may need to do foot exercises before you get out of bed in the morning.
  • Your healthcare provider may recommend padding under your heel or shoe inserts.

Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions, including any exercises recommended by your provider. Ask your provider:

  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid, including how much you can lift, and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent heel pain?

Taking good care of your feet can prevent most heel pain.

  • Wear well-made shoes that that fit your feet and give good arch support and cushioning.
  • Stretch the muscles of your foot and calf before you walk, run, or do any other strenuous activities.
  • If you start a new exercise program, be sure to increase slowly how much and how long you exercise.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2013-07-19
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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