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.