Causes of Heel Pain
In our pursuit of healthy bodies, pain can be an enemy. In some instances, however, it is of biological benefit. Pain that occurs right after an injury or early in an illness may play a protective role, often warning us about the damage we’ve suffered.
Heel Pain can result from many different factors and issues. A single traumatic injury on the heel of the foot is not usually the cause of most heel pain. It can usually be attributed to excessive or repetitive stress or pounding placed on the foot. This results in strain on the bones, muscles, and ligaments throughout the foot that can lead to several different conditions that trigger heel pain.
When we sprain an ankle, for example, the pain warns us that the ligament and soft tissues may be frayed and bruised, and that further activity may cause additional injury. Pain, such as may occur in our heels, also alerts us to seek medical attention. This alert is of utmost importance because of the many afflictions that contribute to heel pain. Conditions that cause heel pain generally fall into two main categories: pain beneath the heel and pain behind the heel.
Pain Beneath the Heel
If it hurts under your heel, you may have one or more conditions that inflame the tissues on the bottom of your foot:
- Stone bruise. When you step on a hard object such as a rock or stone, you can bruise the fat pad on the underside of your heel. It may or may not look discolored. The pain goes away gradually with rest.
- Plantar fasciitis (subcalcaneal pain). Doing too much running or jumping can inflame the tissue band (fascia) connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes. The pain is centered under your heel and may be mild at first but flares up when you take your first steps after resting overnight. You may need to do special exercises, take medication to reduce swelling and wear a heel pad in your shoe.
- Heel spur.When plantar fasciitis continues for a long time, a heel spur (calcium deposit) may form where the fascia tissue band connects to your heel bone. Your doctor may take an X-ray to see the bony protrusion, which can vary in size. Treatment is usually the same as for plantar fasciitis: rest until the pain subsides, do special stretching exercises and wear heel pad shoe inserts.
If you have pain behind your heel, you may have inflamed the area where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone (retrocalcaneal bursitis). People often get this by running too much or wearing shoes that rub or cut into the back of the heel. Pain behind the heel may build slowly over time, causing the skin to thicken, get red and swell. You might develop a bump on the back of your heel that feels tender and warm to the touch. The pain flares up when you first start an activity after resting. It often hurts too much to wear normal shoes. You may need an X-ray to see if you also have a bone spur.
Disease and Heel Pain
Some general health conditions can also bring about heel pain. Rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of arthritis, including gout, which usually manifests itself in the big toe joint, can cause heel discomfort in some cases.Heel pain may also be the result of an inflamed bursa (bursitis), a small, irritated sack of fluid; a neuroma (a nerve growth); or other soft-tissue growth. Such heel pain may be associated with a heel spur or may mimic the pain of a heel spur.
Haglund’s deformity (“pump bump”) is a bone enlargement at the back of the heel bone, in the area where the achilles tendon attaches to the bone. This sometimes painful deformity generally is the result of bursitis caused by pressure against the shoe and can be aggravated by the height or stitching of a heel counter of a particular shoe.
Pain at the back of the heel is associated with inflammation of the achilles tendon as it runs behind the ankle and inserts on the back surface of the heel bone. The inflammation is called achilles tendinitis. It is common among people who run and walk a lot and have tight tendons. The condition occurs when the tendon is strained over time, causing the fibers to tear or stretch along its length, or at its insertion on to the heel bone. This leads to inflammation, pain, and the possible growth of a bone spur on the back of the heel bone. The inflammation is aggravated by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an active lifestyle and certain activities that strain an already tight tendon.
Bone bruises are common heel injuries. A bone bruise or contusion is an inflammation of the tissues that cover the heel bone. A bone bruise is a sharply painful injury caused by the direct impact of a hard object or surface on the foot.
Stress fractures of the heel bone also can occur, although infrequently. Only a relatively few cases of heel pain require more advanced treatments or surgery. If surgery is necessary, it may involve the release of the plantar fascia, removal of a spur, removal of a bursa, or removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.