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Understand Heel Ache

June 30, 2017
Overview

Heel Discomfort

Heel pain is usually felt either under the heel or just behind it. Heel pain has a prevalence of 3.6%. US studies estimate that 7% of older adults report tenderness under the heel. Plantar fasciitis is estimated to account for 8% of all running-related injuries. There are 26 bones in the human foot, of which the heel is the largest. Pain typically comes on gradually, with no injury to the affected area. It is often triggered by wearing a flat shoe. In most cases the pain is under the foot, towards the front of the heel. The majority of patients recover with conservative treatments within months. Home care such as rest, ice, proper-fitting footwear and foot supports are often enough to ease heel pain. To prevent heel pain, it's recommended to reduce the stress on that part of the body.

Causes

In the majority of cases, heel pain has a mechanical cause. It may also be caused by arthritis, infection, an autoimmune problem trauma, a neurological problem, or some other systemic condition (condition that affects the whole body).

Symptoms

Initially, this pain may only be present when first standing up after sleeping or sitting. As you walk around, the muscle and tendon loosen and the pain goes away. As this problem progresses, the pain can be present with all standing and walking. You may notice a knot or bump on the back of the heel. Swelling may develop. In some cases, pressure from the back of the shoe causes pain.

Diagnosis

Your GP or podiatrist (a healthcare professional who specialises in foot care) may be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and examining your heel and foot. You will usually only need further tests if you have additional symptoms that suggest the cause of your heel pain is not inflammation, such as numbness or a tingling sensation in your foot - this could be a sign of nerve damage in your feet and legs (peripheral neuropathy), your foot feels hot and you have a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above - these could be signs of a bone infection, you have stiffness and swelling in your heel - this could be a sign of arthritis. Possible further tests may include, blood tests, X-rays - where small doses of radiation are used to detect problems with your bones and tissues, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or ultrasound scan, which are more detailed scans.

Non Surgical Treatment

Morning Wall Stretch. Stand barefoot in front of wall, as shown. Press into wall with both hands and lean forward, feeling stretch along back of left leg and heel. Hold for 30 seconds; switch sides and repeat. Freeze and Roll. Freeze a small water bottle. Cover it with a towel and place arch of your foot on top of it. Slowly roll bottle beneath arch of foot for about 5 minutes at a time. Switch sides and repeat. Rub It Out. Use both thumbs to apply deep pressure along arch of the feet, heel, and calf muscles, moving slowly and evenly. Continue for 1 minute. Switch sides and repeat. If you foot pain isn't improving or worsens after 2 weeks, a podiatrist or othopedist can prescribe additional therapies to alleviate discomfort and prevent recurrence.

Surgical Treatment

If treatment hasn't worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery - where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.

heel cushions

Prevention

Pain Under The Heel

Maintaining flexible and strong muscles in your calves, ankles, and feet can help prevent some types of heel pain. Always stretch and warm-up before exercising. Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes with good arch support and cushioning. Make sure there is enough room for your toes.

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