Heel pain is one of the most common foot problems faced by American adults today. While a little bit of soreness and aching is normal after a particularly long day, heel pain that causes significant distress or keeps you off your feet and away from daily activities is not normal and needs to be assessed by an expert.
If your heels are constantly aching, swelling, and slowing you down, it’s time to book an appointment with the team at McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group.
What Causes Heel Pain?
Many factors can contribute to painful heels, or increase your risk of developing a heel pain condition. They can include:
- Faulty foot structure or mechanics, particularly flat arches that result in excessive pronation of the feet.
- Improper, unstable, or unsupportive footwear that places excess pressure or stress on the bottom or back of heels.
- Frequent running or participation in high-impact sports or activities (basketball, track, dance, etc.), or engaging in certain repetitive motions.
- Jobs or hobbies that require you to be on your feet for most or all of the day.
- Pressure on nerves in the feet and ankles, due to an obstruction (cyst, tumor, etc.) or due to general inflammation from a medical condition (notably diabetes or prediabetes).
- Being overweight.
- Being middle-aged or older.
- Traumatic injuries.
Heel Pain Conditions
Diagnosable medical conditions that cause heel pain include, but are not limited to:
- Plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia tissue, which connects the heel and the toes across the bottom of the foot, stretches and tears due to overuse. It is the most common heel pain condition and is often worst during first steps in the early morning.
- Nerve injuries. These conditions, usually caused by pinching or compression in nerves, are often mistaken for plantar fasciitis due to similar symptoms. However, they are very different and require specialized treatment. Specific diagnoses include medial calcaneal neuritis, tarsal tunnel syndrome, and peripheral neuropathy.
- Achilles tendinitis. The powerful Achilles tendon can become irritated, stretched, and torn after repeated strain. Pain is usually located at the back of the heel. People who are avid walkers, runners, or play other high-impact sports have a higher risk of this condition.
- Bone spurs. Plantar heel spurs, which form on the bottom of the heel, usually do not cause any pain or discomfort on their own. However, posterior heel spurs, located on the back of the heel where the Achilles inserts into the heel bone, can be very painful.
- Haglund’s deformity. Also known as “pump bump,” this enlarged protrusion of bone can form at the back of the heel. It is commonly associated with wearing hard-backed shoes (such as pumps) and is most common in teenaged girls and young women.
- Sever’s disease. This is the most frequent cause of heel pain in young athletes, particularly those in adolescence. It is caused by inflammation and injury to the heel’s growth plate, which is exposed at this age.
How Is Heel Pain Treated?
The first step toward treatment is to ensure that the diagnosis is sound. At McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group, you’ll receive a thorough physical examination—and X-rays if necessary—to determine whether the pain is coming from your bones, tissues, muscles, ligaments, nerves, or other tissues. We’ll also talk with you about how and when your symptoms emerged and discuss any other relevant information that would shed light on the likely underlying factors.
Many heel pain conditions respond positively to basic conservative treatments. This can include items such as:
- Changes in the types of shoes you wear
- RICE therapy (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
- Exercises and physical therapy
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Taping or strapping
More aggressive forms of heel pain might be treated with methods such as:
- Custom orthotics. These are specially tailored to fit your feet and provide essential support and cushioning that your foot structure may be lacking.
- Laser therapy. This advanced technology uses computer-guided beams of light energy to stimulate cellular function and fight inflammation and pain.
- Surgery. This is a last resort and is usually only necessary in the most advanced cases. Surgical options might include releasing a tight plantar fascia, decompressing a pinched nerve, or fixing a flat foot that puts excess pressure on the heels.
Whatever the cause of your distress, the experienced team of specialists at McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group will help you find it and neutralize it, allowing you to enjoy a more active and pain-free lifestyle. To schedule an appointment with us at our Carmichael, CA location, please call (916) 961-3434.