Pain - heel
Heel pain is often the result of overuse of the foot. It is rarely caused by a single injury such as a fall or twist.
Heel pain may include swelling or tenderness. It may be caused by:
- Running, especially on hard surfaces like concrete, or too often
- Tightness in your calf muscles or the Achilles tendon
- Shoes with poor support or shock absorption
- Sudden inward or outward turning of your heel
- Landing hard or awkwardly on the heel
Conditions related to heel pain include:
- Achilles tendinitis, inflammation of the large tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel.
- Bursitis (inflammation) of the back of the heel)
- Bone spurs in the heel
- Plantar fasciitis, swelling of the thick band of tissue on the bottom of your foot
The following steps may help relieve your heel pain:
- Rest as much as possible for at least a week.
- Apply ice to the painful area. Do this at least twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes, more often in the first couple of days.
- Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and inflammation.
- Wear proper-fitting shoes.
- A heel cup, felt pads in the heel area, or shoe insert.
Other treatments depend on the cause of your heel pain.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your doctor if your heel pain does not get better after 2-3 weeks of home treatments. Also call if:
- Your pain is getting worse despite home treatment
- Your pain is sudden and severe
- You have redness or swelling of your heel
- You cannot put weight on your foot
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as:
- Have you had this type of heel pain before?
- When did your pain begin?
- Do you have pain upon your first steps in the morning or after your first steps after rest?
- Is the pain dull and aching or sharp and stabbing?
- Is it worse after exercise?
- Is it worse when standing?
- Did you fall or twist your ankle recently?
- Are you a runner? If so, how far and how often do you run?
- Do you walk or stand for long periods of time?
- What kind of shoes do you wear?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
Your doctor may order a foot x-ray. Treatment depends on the cause of your foot pain. You may need to see a physical therapist to learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your foot. Your doctor may recommend a night splint to help stretch your foot.
Maintaining flexible and strong muscles in your calves, ankles, and feet can help prevent some types of heel pain. Always stretch and warm-up before exercising.
Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes with good arch support and cushioning.
Wapner KL, Parekh SG. Heel pain. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr, Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:section F.
Abu-Laban RV, Ho K. Ankle and foot. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 55.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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