One of the most common questions we are asked by our patients is, “Why does my heel hurt?”
While there can be many reasons for heel pain, we as foot and ankle surgeons categorize heel pain into four major causes: plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, bursitis and nerve pain. Diagnosing the specific issue depends on the exact location of the pain and how the pain affects the mechanical movement of the leg.
The most common cause of the heel pain is plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that extends from the heel to the toes. When patients suffer from this ailment, the fascia becomes irritated and then inflamed, resulting in heel pain or pain in the arch of the foot. Plantar fascia pain is a tell-tale sign there are mechanical issues going on in how the foot works. We typically treat plantar fasciitis first with nonsurgical strategies, such as stretching exercises; rest; shoe pads and footwear modifications; orthotic devices; night splints and injection therapy. While most patients respond well to conservative treatments, some require surgery to correct the problem.
Achilles tendonitis, or the inflammation of the Achilles tendon, can also be a cause of heel pain. We often see this “overuse” condition in our athletic patients who play high-impact sports, such as basketball or tennis. They often have a sudden increase of repetitive activity involving the Achilles tendon, which puts too much stress on the tendon too quickly, leading to microinjuries of the tendon. To treat Achilles tendonitis, we often immobilize the foot with a walking boot or cast and also use physical therapy, orthotics and ice to help repair the tendon. If the tendon is severely damaged or if nonsurgical treatments don’t work, surgery may be necessary.
Another cause of heel pain commonly seen is bursitis, where the “fat pad” of the heel exhibits redness and swelling from inflammation of the small fluid-filled sac inside the heel, called the bursa. The bursa, which protects the heel from friction, can become inflamed from repetitive motion or irritation from shoes. In the case of bursitis, the heel and the toes are most often affected. Treatment may include resting the foot, ice and anti-inflammatory drug therapy, padding and corticosteroid injections to reduce the inflammation and relieve pain. Surgery may be necessary if conservative methods do not provide relief.
Finally, a somewhat less common cause of heel pain is nerve pain. When the nerves are involved, it feels more like a burning or electrical pain shooting or radiating down the foot from the heel, typically toward the toes. A patient will often tell me their heel “burns.” There are medications that may help with nerve pain, but in this instance, the patient tends to need nerve decompression surgery, a procedure to help “untrap” the nerve causing the pain. These patients tend to have several misdiagnoses before they visit with a foot and ankle surgeon to correctly remedy their pain.
Whatever your heel pain, we always encourage patients to see your Cornerstone Foot & Ankle surgeon for a proper diagnosis.
Cornerstone Foot & Ankle is a full service foot and ankle specialty office with locations in Sewell, Cherry Hill, Marlton, Mt. Holly, Woodbury, and Glassboro; serving the South Jersey region. We offer a full suite of services including surgery, fracture care, fungal nail care, diabetic foot care, pediatric podiatry, custom braces and orthotics, wound care, limb salvage, and treatments for arch pain, heel pain, and sports injuries; just to name a few. If it hurts below your knee, we can help you! CALL NOW or request your appointment online TODAY!