Your foot and ankle are made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and
more than 100 tendons. The heel is the largest bone in your foot.
If you overuse or injure your heel, you may experience heel
pain. This can range from mild to disabling. In many cases, if you have heel
pain, you will need a doctor or podiatrist to diagnose the cause.
What Are Common Causes of Heel Pain?
Heel pain has a number of causes that are typically
associated with overuse of the heel bone. You can strain your heel by pounding
your feet on hard surfaces, being overweight, or wearing shoes that do not fit
These strains can irritate the heel’s bones, muscles, or
tendons. Other common causes of heel pain include the following conditions.
Heel spurs develop when the lining that covers the heel is
continuously stretched. When this occurs, pieces of the lining may break off.
Heel spurs typically develop in athletes who frequently run or jog. They are
also common in people who are obese.
Plantar fasciitis develops when the tendinous tissue
connecting the heel to the ball of the foot becomes inflamed. Plantar fasciitis
also occurs in athletes who frequently run or jog. It can also result from
wearing shoes that do not fit properly.
Excessive pronation is a condition where the foot rolls
inward (toward the arch) and the ligaments and tendons at the back of the heel
are stretched too much. This can occur when injuries to the back, hips, or
knees change the way you walk.
Achilles tendinitis can result from inflammation of the
Achilles tendon, which runs along the back of the heel. This condition is
common in people with active lifestyles who frequently run or jog, professional
athletes, and frequent dancers.
When Should You Contact Your Doctor?
If you develop heel pain, you may first try some home
remedies, such as rest, to ease your symptoms. If your heel pain does not get
better within two to three weeks, you should make an appointment with your
You should call your doctor immediately if:
- your pain is severe
- the pain starts suddenly
- you have redness in your heel
- you have swelling in your heel
- you cannot walk because of the pain in your heel
How Can Heel Pain Be Treated?
If you develop heel pain, you can try several methods at
home to ease your discomfort. For example:
- rest as much as possible
- apply ice to the heel for 10 to 15 minutes twice
- use over-the-counter pain medications
- wear shoes that fit properly
- wear a night splint, a special device that stretches
the foot while you sleep
- use heel lifts or shoe inserts to reduce pain
If these home care strategies do not ease your pain, you
will need to see your doctor. He or she will perform a physical exam and ask
you about your symptoms and when they began. Your doctor may also take an X-ray
to determine the cause of your heel pain. Once your doctor knows what is
causing your pain, he or she will be able to provide you with the appropriate
In many cases, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy.
This can help to strengthen the muscles and tendons in your foot, which helps
to prevent further injury. If your pain is severe, your doctor may provide you
with anti-inflammatory medications. These medications can be injected into the
foot or taken by mouth.
Your doctor may also recommend that you support your foot as
much as possible — either by taping the foot or by using special footwear
In very rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to
correct the problem, but heel surgery often requires a long recovery time and
may not always relieve your foot pain.
What Are the Complications of Heel Pain?
Heel pain can be disabling and affect your daily movements.
It may also change the way that you walk. If this happens, you may be more
likely to lose your balance and fall, making you more prone to other injuries.
How Can You Prevent Heel Pain?
It may not be possible to prevent all cases of heel pain,
yet there are some easy steps that you can take to avoid injury to the heel and
prevent pain. Whenever possible, you should:
- wear shoes that fit properly and support the
- wear the right shoes for physical activity
- stretch your muscles before exercising
- pace yourself during physical activity
- maintain a healthy diet
- rest when you feel tired or when your muscles
- maintain a healthy weight