Do you occasionally feel intense pain behind, within, or beneath your heels? Is the pain more severe in the morning or when you take the first step after staying inactive for some time? If yes, the chances are that you’re suffering from a common foot condition known as heel pain.
Many Americans suffer from heel pain every day, due to one reason or another. In most cases, the condition only affects one foot.
If you identify heel pain early enough and deploy self-care treatment immediately, you may not need to see a physician. If not, the condition can build up and worsen gradually, making walking difficult. Because of this, we usually recommend immediate expert diagnosis whenever you notice a stabbing pain or dull, constant ache around your feet or ankles.
In this article, the experts at Southern California Foot & Ankle Specialists highlight common causes and treatment options for heel pain. We are the go-to foot and ankle physicians in Ladera Ranch, CA, and surrounding areas.
Causes of Heel Pain
Below are the four most common causes of heel pain:
Plantar fasciitis involves an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissues connecting the heel to the base of the toes. The fascia acts as a shock absorber and supports the foot’s arch.
However, if the tension is too much, such as during prolonged exercise, walking, or standing, the fascia can lose its elasticity — causing inflammation and heel pain. Depending on the extent of damage, the pain can extend to the back of your leg as you walk.
Plantar Fascia Tear
Plantar fascia is relatively more painful and uncommon compared to plantar fasciitis. It occurs when you overstretch the fascia beyond its range of motion, causing a rupture of its fibrous tissues. The tear can also happen because of intense movements when exercising or a fall from a high place. Unlike plantar fasciitis, which develops gradually, plantar fascia tear causes an instant “pop” and pain in the affected foot.
Achilles tendinitis occurs due to an overuse of the Achilles tendon, a band of fibrous tissues connecting the heel bone to the back of the calf. It’s common among runners, especially when they suddenly transition to more intense or longer runs. It also occasionally occurs in tennis, basketball players, and ballet dancers.
The condition typically starts as a mild ache above the heel or around the calf after exercise, running, or stair climbing. Next, you’ll experience stiffness or tenderness on the affected foot. If you don’t seek medical help, it will worsen into more severe heel pain.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
The tarsal tunnel, the canal that runs between the inner ankle and the band of ligaments that stretch across the foot, houses several vital arteries, nerves, and tendons, which provide flexibility to the foot. Since the walls of this tunnel consist of either bone or tough fibrous material through which these blood vessels, tendons, and nerves have to pass, the inflexibility of the walls may create a problem.
Heel pain can also result from tarsal tunnel syndrome, which arises from repeated pressure, compression, and damage of the posterior tibial nerve. It can manifest as a burning sensation, electric shock, and mild to severe pain in the heel and ankle.
Physical activity, like running and walking, might exacerbate symptoms, which vary from person to person. Others have acute stabbing pains, while others exhibit gradual signs.
Other Causes of Heel Pain
While there are many causes of heel pain, we have included these above because they are the most common. A few more common causes of heel pain are Sever’s Disease in young children, flat feet, heel bone fractures, heel spurs, and poor footwear.
Treatment Options for Heel Pain
The ideal treatment for heel pain depends on its cause and severity. Here are a few options to consider:
This remedy is suitable for less severe heel pain from minor injuries, such as mild Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis. It involves four steps:
- Rest: Avoiding physical activities, like running, stair climbing, exercising, and walking, eliminates additional pressure on the affected heel. Doing so gives the foot time to recover.
- Ice: Apply a cold bag or pack of ice on the injured heel to reduce pain and swelling. Do not place the ice directly on your skin. Instead, wrap the affected area with a cloth or towel before icing.
- Compression: You can further minimize swelling by wrapping the painful heel with an elastic bandage. Ensure the wrap is firm enough to prevent further swelling but not too tight to affect blood flow.
- Elevation: Use pillows to elevate the injured foot above the heart level. Doing so enhances circulation to the heel.
Physical treatment is prescribed if the heel discomfort is moderately severe, such as with plantar fascia tears. This treatment involves exercise, massage regimens, and physical stimuli-based solutions like cold, heat, and electrical currents. It can strengthen your weakened muscles and speed up your recovery.
We may recommend custom orthotics if the heel pain has affected your foot posture. These prescription orthotics can reverse the effects of a severe tunnel syndrome or plantar fascia tear on your foot. We make these devices from 3D impressions of your feet to correct your foot posture.
This treatment option involves injecting cortisone (an anti-inflammatory steroid) or ostenil (a solution containing pain-relieving hyaluronic acid) directly into the affected area. It’s ideal when you want faster relief for extreme inflammation or heel pain. Depending on the severity of the heel pain, you might require up to 3 injections spread over three weeks.
You might require surgery in severe, long-term cases. There are different techniques and procedures that can be used depending on the severity and cause of the heel pain. Our experts will be with you every step of the way and guide you on what you can expect from each type of surgery.
Get Your Heel Pain Treated
Heel pain shouldn’t make you fret, especially when our physicians are more than ready to help you. Call us today at (949) 364-9255 or fill out our online contact form to schedule an appointment with the best foot specialists.