Heel Pain- Common Causes and When to See Your Podiatrist

Feet are an amazing and very complex part of the body, but are often neglected despite the amount of use they receive. A common problem that patients see a podiatrist for is pain in their heel. At the very least, heel pain can be an annoyance that many people cope with on a daily basis. At its worst, heel pain can be a disabling condition that prevents you from doing the things that you love around the beautiful Puget Sound region.

Common Causes of Heel Pain

Due to the great terrain disparity throughout the State of Washington, you could be running in the Bellevue Ghost Marathon while wearing wet, soggy shoes one day and the next day you could be hiking the rugged and jagged Pacific Crest Trail in the Cascade Mountains. Regardless which activities you’re into, there are a number of reasons why you may be suffering from heel pain.  These may include:

  • Plantar Fasciitis: This is also known as inflammation of the plantar fascia, and is a very common culprit of heel pain. The fascia is a fibrous connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. It runs from the heel to the ball of the foot, and is commonly injured by excessive or strenuous physical activity. Painful inflammation and potential bone spurs near the heel can be related to stretching and tearing of the fascia.
  • Achilles Tendinitis: Pain located at the back of the heel could be due to inflammation of the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon attaches to the back surface of the heel, and can become irritated, inflamed and very painful. Similarly to plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis can possibly lead to calcification and the growth of bone spurs.
  • Bursitis:  A bursa is a fluid-filled sac or cushion that may be already be present, or may form as a result of increased pressure or friction at a particular area of the body.  If this bursa becomes inflamed and sore, this is called “bursitis”.  Common areas for bursitis in the heel are at the back of the heel bone near the Achilles, but they may also occur on the bottom near the plantar fascia.
  • Bone Bruises/Contusions: The heel is typically the first point of impact when walking and running. Due to this high volume of impact and strain, heel bone bruises may occur if your heel has recently had a direct impact with a hard surface, or even had repetitive smaller impact while wearing shoes with insufficient cushioning.
  • Nerve Entrapment:  Compression or irritation of a nerve near the heel may cause pain that is described as burning, radiating, sharp or shooting.

It is critical to receive a correct diagnosis for your pain, as the treatment may be very different for each problem listed above.

Preventing Heel Pain

feet walkingAlways consider the steps outlined below in order to reduce your chances of a potentially painful heel injury.

  • Wear properly fitted shoes with adequate padding and support
  • Prior to physical exercise, warm-up and stretch in order for your ligaments to acclimate
  • Allow yourself adequate time to rest and recover from physical activities
  • Wear the correct shoes for the activities you regularly participate in
  • Seek medical assistance if pain and inflammation persist to avoid further harm

When Should I See A Heel Pain Expert?

Generally speaking, you should see a podiatrist if pain and other symptoms of heel pain persist for an ongoing period.  Symptoms include, but are not limited to increasing pain, swelling, redness, irritation, sensitivity to pressure, and warmth.  If you or a loved one is suffering from a painful heel that is not responding to rest, ice, or short-term use of anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, contact Dr. Saam at Bellevue Podiatry for an evaluation.