How Common is Heel Pain?
Heel pain is very common in adults and is on the rise in children. In fact, foot and ankle surgeons cite heel pain as the symptom that most frequently sends patients to their offices. Participation in sports, particularly fall and winter sports, as well as obesity contribute to heel pain in kids. For adults, there are generally four primary causes of heel pain: plantar fasciitis (also known as stabbing heel pain), Achilles tendonitis, bursitis and nerve pain.
Where Does Heel Pain Develop?
Varying degrees of pain can occur anywhere on the heel, but where a patient feels heel pain plays an important role in the exact diagnosis. The most typical areas of heel pain are:
- Within the heel bone.
- Behind the heel.
- Beneath the heel.
Heel Pain Causes and Treatments
Plantar Fasciitis – or inflammation of the band of tissue that runs from the heel to the toes - is the most common cause of heel pain. It also can cause pain in the arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is typically a sign of mechanical issues in how the foot works. Treatments include conservative options like stretching exercises, rest, orthotics and supportive shoes. Surgery is occasionally required when the conservative methods don’t alleviate the condition and the heel pain.
Achilles tendonitis is the inflammation of the Achilles tendon and is known as an “overuse” condition. It is common among athletes in high-impact sports like tennis and basketball. Players feel heel pain as a result of putting too much stress too quickly on the Achilles tendon, which can cause microinjuries to the tendon. Most often, heel pain resulting from Achilles tendonitis can be addressed non-surgically by immobilizing the foot with a walking boot, as well as using orthotics and ice to help repair the tendon. Severe tendon damage, however, that does not respond to nonsurgical treatment may require surgery.
Bursitis is another common cause of heel pain. There is a “fat pad” inside the heel called the bursa that protects the heel from the friction of everyday use. Heel pain can result when the bursa becomes inflamed from repetitive motion, like walking and running, or irritation from shoes. Foot and ankle surgeons generally start with a conservative treatment plan that includes rest, ice and anti-inflammatory medications as well as corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and relieve the heel pain. Surgery may be necessary if these first line therapies don’t provide relief.
A less common cause of heel pain is actually nerve pain. When the nerves are involved, it feels more like a burning pain, shooting down from the foot generally toward the toes. Patients will often tell their foot and ankle surgeons during a visit that their heel “burns.” While there are noninvasive options, like medications that will help nerve pain, patients often require decompression surgery to “untrap” the nerve causing the pain. Patients suffering from heel pain resulting from nerve pain are often misdiagnosed before seeing a foot and ankle surgeon and being properly diagnosed.
Heel Pain Diagnosis
Getting the right diagnosis from a foot and ankle surgeon, as soon as possible at the onset of heel pain, will ensure that a proper treatment plan is put in place. With proper treatment, heel pain can usually be addressed non-surgically. A foot and ankle surgeon is also highly qualified to recommend and perform any surgery that may be needed to resolve the issue causing the heel pain.
What Increases the Risk for Heel Pain?
Heel Pain Treatment
When to call a foot and ankle surgeon for heel pain
Why choose a foot and ankle surgeon for heel pain?
Foot and ankle surgeons are the leading experts in foot and ankle care today. As doctors of podiatric medicine – also known as podiatrists, DPMs or occasionally “foot and ankle doctors” – they are the board-certified surgical specialists of the podiatric profession. Foot and ankle surgeons have more education and training specific to the foot and ankle than any other healthcare provider.
Foot and ankle surgeons treat all conditions affecting the foot and ankle, from the simple to the complex, in patients of all ages including heel pain. Their intensive education and training qualify foot and ankle surgeons to perform a wide range of surgeries, including any surgery that may be indicated for heel pain.