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What Causes Heel Pain?

By J. MacArthur
Updated Jan 31, 2024
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Heel pain is an extremely common complaint among adults. Its causes can usually be pinpointed to excessive stress on or pounding of the foot, although other causes may be more serious. An accurate diagnosis is needed to a successful treatment plan and recovery.

Perhaps the most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis, which is the swelling of the tightly wrapped tissue in the arch of the foot. Rest and elevation of the heel can alleviate pain and swelling. Special ankle stretches should help reduce the recovery time.

Heel spurs are painful hooks of bone located on the heel. These are often seen in patients with plantar fasciitis and may require surgery. Another fairly common cause of heel pain is tarsal tunnel syndrome, which occurs when a large nerve in the back of the foot becomes pinched, similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in the hand. Stress fractures of the bone in the heel can also cause pain.

Signs that pain in the heel may be serious and require medical attention include the inability to walk comfortably on the affected foot, pain that occurs at night or while resting, pain that persists beyond a few days, swelling or discoloration of the heel, and any sign of infection or unusual symptoms.

Approaches to treat heel pain vary, and it is very important that the cause of the pain is understood before beginning a treatment regimen. As with any injury, patients should seek medical advice before beginning any therapy. Common at-home remedies include applying ice packs to ease pain, exercising and stretching to relax the tissues surrounding the heel and bone, and taking anti-inflammatory medications, which are used to both control pain and decrease inflammation. A fairly inexpensive and common treatment is to use shoe inserts, which will allow the wearer to complete an activity without extra stress on the heel.

People more likely to suffer from heel pain include those with foot abnormalities; those who undertake continuous, strenuous exercise; those who are obese; and those who stand for prolonged periods. It's also important to wear shoes that fit properly to reduce the risk of developing pain.

Sufferers of heel pain will usually get better without surgery. Ignoring this pain can easily allow the condition to worsen, resulting in a chronic condition that can lead to more serious problems. Anyone who is experiencing pain in the heel of the foot that does not go away in a few days should contact his or her health care provider.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By PelesTears — On Feb 03, 2011

@ Amphibious54- I get heel pain from running. Do you think this could be the plantar fasciitis? Did you go see a specialist about your foot?

By Amphibious54 — On Feb 01, 2011

@ aplenty- It sounds like you have plantar fasciitis. I had plantar fasciitis from spending too much time on my feet (working in a kitchen). I have heard this is a common ailment amongst soldiers, track athletes, and basketball players. The most common symptom is morning heel pain.

It took me about six to eight months for my plantar fasciitis to go away, but I did not get time off to stay off my feet. My physical therapist had me do stretches on my calf muscles and Achilles tendons, and I would also roll my foot over a lacrosse ball. Tennis balls work well if the floor is carpeted. I also bought new shoes that offered better arch support.

If you spend a lot of time at a desk, you can bring a lacrosse or tennis ball with you to work, and roll it under the arch of your foot. This will help to massage and loosen the ligament. You can also soak your feet at home after work.

By aplenty — On Jan 29, 2011

I have had severe heel pain since I stepped in a hole in the rough while playing golf. It felt like the arch in my foot bent in the opposite direction. I can walk on it, but it becomes very painful if I am on my feet for more than an hour, or even if I sit at a desk for too long. Does anyone know what it might be, and how to fix it? How long will it take for the pain to go away?

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