Why Your Heel Hurts- And How We Can Help!
Heel pain is surprisingly common, but not enough people take action about it. This leads to many situations where conditions worsen and favorite activities become less enjoyable than they should be.
The truly sad part is that a vast majority of this suffering could be easily resolved. We know this definitively because our office has been able to help numerous patients overcome heel pain and go back to enjoying their favorite physical activities!
You should already know something is wrong—after all, pain is the body’s way of indicating an existing problem—so your first step in getting the help you need to address it is figuring out what is happening.
To that end, we have some general guidelines for determining the cause of your heel pain:
- If your pain is in the bottom of your heel and is strongest with first steps in the morning, you likely have plantar fasciitis.
- If your pain is in the back of your heel and is strongest following physical activity, you likely have Achilles tendinitis.
- If your pain is in the back of your heel and you are an adolescent, you likely have Sever’s disease.
- If heel pain started following physical trauma (like a car accident or sporting injury), you likely have a calcaneal fracture.
- If heel pain has a gradual onset with no apparent root cause—and you run long distances on a very frequent basis, you may have a stress fracture in your heel bone.
Now that you have an idea as to what might be wrong—but remember that the best way to get an accurate diagnosis is to see us here at Anderson Foot & Ankle Clinic—let’s take a closer look at these respective conditions and injuries:
- Plantar fasciitis – This is, by far, the most common form of heel pain for adults. In plantar fasciitis, the issue originates in the tough, fibrous band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot – the plantar fascia. When overuse or sudden increases in levels of physical activity cause inflammation in this soft tissue, you will often experience sharp, stabbing pain on the bottom of the heel. Generally following extended periods of rest and inactivity (like after a full night’s sleep).
- Achilles tendinitis – Whereas the Achilles tendon is a strong tissue, it still has its limits. When this tendon is overused or subjected to excessive force that accompanies intense physical activity, it can become painful and inflamed. The pain will usually be somewhat mild at first and then increase over time (especially during, and immediately following, exercise and physical activities).
- Sever’s disease – The most likely cause behind heel pain for adolescents, Sever’s disease is not actually a “disease.” Instead, it is a “growing pain” that stems from differences in physical development. When the heel bone (calcaneus) grows faster the Achilles tendon (which is anchored to the back of it), it creates a situation wherein the tendon tugs on the bone. This causes pain in the back of the heel, and is especially evident in adolescents who are physically active.
- Fractures – Acute calcaneal fractures (ones resulting from accidents) do happen, but they tend to be rare. If a fracture is the root cause of heel pain, it is more likely to be a stress fracture. In this overuse injury, excessive pressure or force can cause tiny cracks to develop in your calcaneus, especially when the supporting soft tissues in your feet are overly tired. These hairline fractures can cause pain that worsens in time.
Other sources of pain in the back and bottom of the foot include bursitis, strains, and sprains. The good news is that many cases of these respective injuries do not require surgical intervention.
As a matter of fact, conservative heel pain treatment is often quite successful at addressing the problem and providing relief.
Some of the nonsurgical options we employ in treatment plans are rest, ice, stretches, medication, and orthotic devices. The actual treatments we prescribe for any given case will depend, naturally, on factors such as the condition, its severity, and the patient being treated.
Rest and time away from high-intensity activities is rather beneficial. This allows the body to use natural healing processes to repair damaged tissues.
It is important to know how much rest you need, what activities are safe for you, and when you can go back to regular activity, and this is where our medical experts can help. Even though we may program may be beneficial.
Ice and medication are both used to relieve pain and control inflammation in the injured heel.
We can create an ice therapy regimen for you that will be effective, but also safe. That said, keeping ice on an area for too long may lead to issues, so it is essential you follow our plan and not do more in an attempt to get better faster.
Our prescriptions and/or recommendations for OTC medication are provided keep you safe as your body recovers. As is the case with icing, only take prescribed dosages and avoid the temptation to try using extra (which could potentially cause serious problems for your kidneys).
Custom orthotic devices and shoe inserts can be prescribed to either treat an existing condition or prevent issues from arising in the first place.
Depending on your specific case, we may recommend orthotic devices to provide greater arch support and possibly some additional cushioning. When we prescribe orthotics, they are customized to work with your unique feet and correct underlying biomechanical issues. Not only does this serve to treat existing heel pain, it can also keep the pain from recurring!
Whereas conservative care is successful for most cases of heel pain, there are rare cases that do require surgical intervention for optimal healing. This is often done on any of the soft tissues connected to the heel bone – like the plantar fascia or Achilles tendon.
Before we even start to consider surgery, however, we will exhaust conservative options.
When surgery is our recommended course of action, you can find comfort in the fact we are skilled and experienced in providing a wide range of surgical care for foot issues – including procedures to treat severe cases of heel pain.
If you would like additional information on heel pain and the treatments we provide—or you are ready to schedule an appointment with our Salt Lake City office—simply give us a call at (801) 269-9939. If you’d prefer, you can also contact Anderson Foot & Ankle Clinic online right now.