The calcaneus is another name for the heel bone. It is one bone in a cluster of bones of the foot between the lower leg or shin bones, the tibia and fibula, and the bones of the foot. The metatarsal bones, also known as the foot bones, are five long bones in the foot that serve as the connection of the toes.
The calcaneus is the largest bone of the foot. Its purpose is to supply a connection between the ankle and the foot, and to provide muscle attachments. Muscle attachments are where the muscle fastens to a movable bone. This connection is referred to as a joint. The Achilles tendon, for example, the thickest and strongest tendon of the body, attaches the calf muscles to the calcaneus. A tendon is a band of fibrous connective tissue connecting muscles to bones.
Problems with the calcaneus can arise when there are problems with the muscle attachments or when a trauma is sustained, such as through a fall or direct blow to the heel. A fracture or a break in this area can also occur with a severe ankle sprain. A sprain is an injury to the ligaments where micro-tears occur. A ligament connects bone to bone. A sprain to the ankle ligaments can create excessive stress on the calcaneus and can a fracture.
A fracture of the calcaneus can cause pain and swelling of the foot and ankle, especially in the heel area, coupled with difficulty or inability to walk. Pain is exacerbated with activities and can be made worse by squeezing of the heel. However, since calcaneal fractures are difficult to detect unless it is a compound fracture where the bone protrudes from the skin, a break in the heel bone may not show up on an x-ray for several weeks after it begins to heal.
Treatment for a calcaneal fracture includes complete rest and casting. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to properly realign the heel bone. Physical rehabilitation and a gradual return to activity are recommended following the removal of the cast.
Heel pain issues can include bursitis, tendinitis and fasciitis, common inflammation conditions irritating the bursa, the small sac which reduces friction where the bone meets muscle, the tendon, or the fascia, the web-like protective connective tissues inside the ankle. Other problems associated with pain in the calcaneus include bone spurs, arthritis conditions and excessive stress to the foot and ankle. The use of special taping techniques or bracing such as foot orthotics may be beneficial in relieving heel pain.