There are two main reasons for heel pain being such a widespread problem: heels endure tremendous force loads (even during a typical day), and there are several potential sources of the pain.
A Closer Look at Heel Pain Conditions
Now that you have an idea as to which condition might be causing your pain, let’s take a closer look at the respective issues.
- Plantar fasciitis. This is, by far, the leading cause of heel pain for adults. The condition develops when the plantar fascia—a fibrous band of tissue running along the bottom of the foot—is torn by excessive stress.
- Achilles tendinitis. When you perform intense physical activity suddenly, or your Achilles tendon becomes inflamed from overuse, you might develop this common sports injury. The Achilles tendon is actually the largest and strongest of all the tendons in your body, but it’s not infallible.
- Sever’s disease. Plantar fasciitis is the most common source of heel pain for adults, but Sever’s is the leading cause for adolescents. As alluded to earlier, this can be thought of as a “growing pain” instead of a “disease.” The pain from this is worse during and after physical activity, so your teen might start to withdraw from sports he or she previously enjoyed.
There are certainly other causes of heel pain—like heel bone fractures, bursitis, and heel spurs—but the common thread binding all of these conditions is the fact you should seek professional diagnosis and treatment. This is important for not only relieving existing symptoms, but it can also help you prevent long-term issues.
Finding the Source of Your Heel Pain
One source of heel pain might be more common than the others, but there are a handful of reasons why your heel hurts. When diagnosing the root cause of heel pain, we can start by determining which is the most likely based on two major factors – 1) Where in the heel is the pain? And 2) When is the pain its strongest?
Other factors may end up being relevant, but the answer to those two questions gives us a decent starting point for understanding what might be wrong.
Some general guidelines for determining the cause of your heel pain include:
- If your pain is in the bottom of your heel and is strongest with first steps in the morning, you likely have plantar fasciitis. This is the most common form of heel pain for adults. The intense, sharp pain on the bottom of the heel develops following extended periods of rest and inactivity (like after a full night’s sleep).
- If your pain is in the back of your heel and is strongest following physical activity, you likely have Achilles tendinitis. This condition develops when your Achilles tendon becomes inflamed from overuse. The pain will usually be somewhat mild at first and then increase over time (especially during, and immediately following, exercise and physical activities).
- If your pain is in the back of your heel and you are an adolescent, you likely have Sever’s disease. This condition is not actually a “disease.” Instead, it happens when the heel bone reaches physical maturity before the Achilles tendon does. This situation causes the tight tendon to pull on the back of the heel bone.
- If heel pain started following physical trauma (like a car accident or sporting injury), you likely have a calcaneal fracture. This injury is a fairly rare, but it does happen. As with any fracture, you should absolutely come in and see us for an evaluation of the damage and an appropriate treatment plan.
As noted, this at least provides a starting point for diagnosing the condition. Our office is also proud to have an ultrasound machine on site, which we can use for reliable and convenient diagnoses.
Heel Pain Treatment
The good news about these various conditions is that they are usually resolved with conservative (nonsurgical) treatment. There are many different options and methods Dr. Anderson may use when creating his treatment plan for you. Some of these include rest, ice, medication, stretches, physical therapy, footwear changes, orthotic devices, and corticosteroid injections. Your case will determine which options are used.
Remember, if you have pain in the back of your foot, it’s not normal! Instead, this is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Fortunately, we can help.
Contact Anderson Foot & Ankle Clinic by calling our Salt Lake City, UT podiatrist office at (801) 269-9939. Our friendly staff will be glad to answer any questions or help schedule your appointment.