Heel pain is relatively common, but even mild heel or foot discomfort still needs the care and attention to prevent it from getting worse. Here’s how to tell when it’s time to see the doctor for professional treatment.
Most of us think of the heel as the place where the leg “bends” into the foot. But your heels are complex anatomical structures with lots of different components. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, to learn that heel pain is pretty common, affecting millions of Americans each year.
Weston Angermeier, DPM, and Rachel Hensley, DPM, specialize in diagnosing and treating heel pain. For patients who come to Richmond Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates with this common symptom, our expert team provides fully tailored care based on a comprehensive evaluation and individual needs.
Read on to learn the many possible causes of heel pain — and find out when it’s time to seek medical treatment at our Richmond, Virginia, practice.
Common causes of heel pain
For every mile you walk, you’re placing about 60 tons of stress — or 120,000 pounds — on your feet and ankles. That’s a lot of stress and strain on the bones of your heel, as well as on the tendons and ligaments that support normal heel movement.
There are many potential causes of heel pain. These are five of the most common:
Most people think of arthritis in their knees, hips, or hands, but it can affect your feet, too. If you have arthritis in a foot joint or in your ankle, you can feel pain in and around your heel. Osteoarthritis (the most common type) is one source of arthritis heel pain, but so are rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.
The plantar fascia is a tough band of fibrous tissue that extends along the bottom of your foot and provides support to your arch. Repetitive pressure from walking, jumping, and other activities causes the plantar fascia to become inflamed, resulting in pain along the band as well as where the band attaches to the heel.
People with plantar fasciitis tend to have more pain when they get up in the morning, with symptoms gradually diminishing as the tissues warm up.
Bruises happen when you step on a stone or other very hard object, resulting in tissue injury to the fleshy pad of your heel. Sometimes you can see the bruise, but more often, there’s no discoloration. Most stone bruises heal fully with rest, but a little ice can help, too.
Heel spurs are bony overgrowths that form along the edge of a bone. These growths press against other structures, leading to pain and swelling. Heel spurs are a common consequence of untreated plantar fasciitis.
Bursae are small, fluid-filled sacs that cushion your joints and support normal joint function. Bursitis happens when a bursa becomes irritated and inflamed. Sometimes, bursitis happens in conjunction with an inflamed, swollen knob called a “pump bump” that forms at the back of the heel, typically as a result of ill-fitting shoes.
These tiny fractures are more common among runners and other athletes who put a lot of repetitive stress on their heels. Most stress fractures are accompanied by swelling and tenderness. They need prompt medical care to heal properly and prevent more serious fractures from developing.
When to see the doctor
If you have mild mold heel pain with no other symptoms, it’s probably alright to try some home care, like applying ice and staying off your foot to give your heel time to recover. But there are definitely times when professional medical care is the best way to keep an underlying problem from getting worse.
You should schedule an office visit if your heel pain:
- Is accompanied by swelling or a foot or ankle deformity
- Is caused by a fall or other traumatic accident
- Interferes with walking and other daily activities
- Doesn’t go away in a few days, gets worse, or “spreads”
Since your heel plays such a big role in simple activities, like walking or even driving, it’s a good idea to call the office for any type of persistent heel pain, even if it’s relatively mild, so we can recommend next steps.
Help for heel pain
Considering we use our feet all day long, even a little heel pain can take a big toll on our lives. If you’re suffering from heel pain, our team is ready to help. To learn more, call 804-358-9031 or book an appointment online at Richmond Foot & Ankle Surgical Associates today.