The human foot is one of the most commonly injured parts of the body. That’s why it’s no surprise that the heel bone (calcaneal tuberosity), which is the largest bone in the foot, is frequently injured as well. Injury to the heel bone can result in pain from nearly every angle: back, front, sides, and bottom.
Reasons for Heel Pain
Besides direct fractures and bruising, the biggest causes of heel pain are other injuries to the bone, ligaments, tendons, and tissue of the foot and ankle. These injuries are commonly caused by stress, strain, and too much pressure on the various parts of the ankle and foot. Here are some of the typical activities that have led to heel pain for our patients here in Middle Tennessee:
- walking, running, or jumping on hard surfaces
- wearing poorly constructed footwear
- being overweight
Injuries that Cause Heel Pain
Here are some of the specific injuries and ailments that impact the heel:
- Plantar fasciitis (possibly the highest cause of heel pain) – irritation and inflammation of tissue
- Tarsal tunnel syndrome – caused by compressed nerves
- Rheumatoid arthritis & Gout – usually impacts the big toe joint, but can cause heel discomfort as well
- Bursitis – a small growth of soft-tissue or fluid that can mimic a heel spur
- Haglund’s deformity – an enlargement of bone on the back of the heel
- Achilles tendinitis – an injury to the Achilles tendon which connects the calf muscle to the heel bone
- Bone bruises – inflammation of the tissues that cover the heel bone
- Fracture (break) – typically a stress fracture
- Excessive Pronation – similar to an overuse injury, this is caused by over working the normal movements and workings of the foots arch
- Heel spurs – buildup of calcium deposits typically found at the bottom of the heel
Heel Spurs & Causes
Heel spurs are one of the most common heel deformities. These calcaneal spurs sometimes cause pain, but are often painless. They can develop on their own, but are sometimes brought on by other foot and heel injuries.
A heel spur is a buildup of calcium deposits on the heel that create a spur like shape up to half an inch in length. These pointed bony spurs are typically located at the bottom of the heel (inferior calcaneal spur), and the back of the heel (posterior calcaneal spur).
Many of the most common causes of heel spurs are similar to other heel pain causes. Here are some of the issues that can lead to a heel spur:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Poorly fitting shoes or consistently wearing flip-flops
- Walking gait
- Stretching of the tissue connecting the heel & ball of the foot
- Repeatedly tearing away of the membrane that covers the heel bone
- Calcium build ups due to ongoing injuries and stress
Symptoms of Heel Injuries & Spurs
The most obvious symptom of a heel injury is simply pain on your heel. However, with the complex makeup of the foot and ankle, a heel injury can cause pain to radiate across the foot – making it harder to initially diagnose.
Here are the symptoms that can help you better understand if you’re facing a heel injury:
- Swelling on the bottom or back of the heel
- Redness on the heel
- Radiating heat from the heel
- Pain on the arch of the foot
- An initial shooting pain when you first stand up
Often the best way to diagnose a heel injury and formulate a treatment option is through an X-ray.
Diagnosing Heel Spurs
Heel spurs do not always cause pain, and bone protrusions are not always visible to the naked eye. At times, heel spurs have no symptoms at all.
Sometimes the only way to tell if you have a heel spur is through an X-ray or another foot or ankle injury diagnosis. However, here are some heel spur symptoms you may be able to recognize without the help of an X-ray:
- Chronic heel pain – especially when active
- Pointed and sharp pain on the heel
- Points of tenderness at the bottom or back of the heel
- Difficulty & irritation when walking barefoot
- A visible bump on the heel
- Irritability on the heel from various shoe types
Treatments: How To Cure Heel Spurs & Pain
Heel injuries and pain, whether caused by heel spurs or not, often have similar treatments.
Heel Pain & Spur Treatment
When our podiatrists formulate a treatment for heel pain or spurs they look to reduce inflammation and irritation, while also preventing future injury. Here are some of the non-surgical treatment options:
- Icing & cold compress
- Night splints
- Cortisone shots
- Protective boots
- Anti-inflammatory & pain medications
- Custom orthotics & inserts
- Physical therapy
Shoes For Heel Spurs
Not only do custom orthotics and inserts help with heel spurs, but so do the shoes you choose to wear. Specifically, the best shoes to prevent or aid heel spurs are shoes with:
- Heavily cushioned soles, such as running shoes
- Shock absorbent
- Supportive heel counter
- Are not too tight or loose
Conservative and Surgical Treatments
Our podiatrists at Advanced Foot & Ankle will always look to conservative treatment options for your heel pain and injuries first. However, at times surgery to remove spurs or release the plantar fascia may be necessary.