Heel pain is a common foot condition. It is usually felt as an intense pain when using the affected heel.
Heel pain usually builds up gradually and gets worse over time. The pain is often severe and occurs when you place weight on the heel.
In most cases only one heel is affected, although estimates suggest around a third of people have pain in both heels.
The pain is usually worse first thing in the morning, or when you first take a step after a period of inactivity. After walking the pain usually improves, but often gets worse again after walking or standing for a long time.
Some people may limp or develop an abnormal walking style as they try to avoid placing weight on the affected heel.
What causes heel pain?
Most cases of heel pain are caused when a band of tissue in the foot, known as the plantar fascia, becomes damage and thickened.
Plantar fasciitis is the medical term for the thickening of the plantar fascia.
The plantar fascia
The plantar fascia is a tough and flexible band of tissue that runs under the sole of the foot. It connects the heel bone with the bones of the foot, and acts as a kind of shock absorber to the foot.
Sudden damage, or damage that occurs over many months or years, can cause tiny tears (microtears) to develop inside the tissue of the plantar fascia. This can cause the plantar fascia to thicken, resulting in heel pain.
The surrounding tissue and the heel bone can also sometimes become inflamed.
In most cases, your doctor should be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by:
- asking about your symptoms and medical history
- examining your heel and foot
Treating heel pain
There are a number of treatments that can help relieve heel pain and speed up your recovery. These include:
- resting your heel – try to avoid walking long distances and standing for long periods
- regular stretching – stretching your calf muscles and plantar fascia
Having heel pain for this length of time can often be frustrating and painful.
In around one in 20 cases, the above treatments are not enough and specialist treatment may be recommended.
Specialist treatment for heel pain includes:
- Anti-inflammatory injection
- Shockwave therapy
- Platelet rich plasma injection
- Surgery (for very rare case)
Preventing heel pain
Being overweight can place excess pressure and strain on your feet, particularly on your heels. Losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy balanced diet can be beneficial for your feet.
Wearing appropriate footwear is also important. Ideally, you should wear shoes with a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels.