At one time or another during your life, you’re probably going to experience some degree of heel pain – just about everyone does. It might develop from playing basketball, not allowing enough time to rest in between runs, or even from doing nothing at all out of the ordinary. And you can develop heel pain at any age, including adolescence.
The most common cause of heel pain is irritation or damage to the plantar fascia, the tendon that connects your heel to your arch. But heel pain can also be the result of damage or strain to the achilles tendon, which connects your heel to your calf muscle.
In children, heel pain is frequently associated with Sever’s Disease, a bone disorder caused by inflammation of the growth plate in the heel. Heel pain can also be the result of arthritis, bursitis, gout, a pinched nerve, a heel spur, a stress fracture to the heel bone (calcaneus) or other conditions. Because the possibilities are so numerous, it’s essential that you have your heel pain diagnosed by a podiatrist so that a proper course of action can be prescribed to heal your foot as quickly as possible.
The most common causes of heel pain
Plantar Fasciitis is by far the most common reason for heel pain. The classic sign of PF arrives first thing in the morning when you step out of bed – a sharp pain in your heel, which gradually fades as the tendon warms up with movement. But the pain may return if you exercise or stand for long periods. Read more about Plantar Fasciitis.
The Achilles Tendon is responsible for every step you take, and you couldn’t make a jump shot without it. When we demand too much of the achilles tendon, it becomes irritated or ruptured, causing pain that can be felt anywhere along the rear of the ankle, including the heel. Read more about injuries to the achilles tendon.
In children, Sever’s disease, known as calcaneal apophysitis, is the most common cause of heel pain. The inflammation of the heel’s growth plate is quite painful, and should never be ignored. Sever’s Disease is very common in obese children and those who play lots of sports, and most commonly occurs during growth spurts in adolescence. Read more about heel pain in children.
How you can treat heel pain at home
Like the old saying goes, your best defense is a strong offense, and this is especially true when it comes to protecting your feet from heel pain. Always perform simple exercises to warm up your legs and feet before exercising. When tissues and bones are gently stretched before your game or workout, they’re better able to handle the load you’ll be demanding of them, and the less likely they are to become irritated or ruptured. See simple stretching exercises here. It’s also a good idea to slowly work up to your maximum, and not start out at full speed. And you should always wear a sturdy, supportive pair of athletic shoes to support your feet when exercising.
If you already have a mild case of heel pain, try:
- Resting. Avoid doing the activity which caused the heel pain.
- Stretch. Simple, gentle stretching exercises performed in the morning or evening can relax and strengthen the tissues which surround the heel bone.
- Ice packs applied to your heel for 20 minutes at a time can reduce inflammation and pain.
- Anti-inflammatory medicine like advil (ibuprofen) or aleve (naproxen) can be used to manage pain and reduce inflammation.
- Do your shoes fit properly? In some cases, switching to a new pair of athletic shoes with excellent support of the arch and heel reduces symptoms considerably.
- Download our free guide on treating your heel pain at home.
If you have heel pain that won’t resolve with in-home treatment, make an appointment with your podiatrist for a diagnosis and treatment plan. He or she may choose to treat your heel pain with steroid injections, immobilization, physical therapy, custom in-shoe orthotics, or other non-invasive procedures. If your heel pain is serious and chronic, surgery may be recommended.