Pain in Heel of Foot: Everything You Need To Know

The human foot has over 7,000 nerve endings, which makes it super sensitive to pain. This explains why nearly 2 million Americans seek treatment for heel pain every year.

This pain often feels like a knife stuck in the heel, especially when standing, walking, or running. It usually switches from mild to severe throughout the day and is more prevalent among athletes and overweight individuals.

Although there are many causes of heel pain, plantar fasciitis is the most common cause.

Here’s everything you need to know about it:

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

There is a fibrous tissue at the bottom of your foot known as the plantar fascia. This tissue connects your toes to the heel bone and absorbs shock as you walk or run.

When the fibrous tissue is inflamed and can no longer absorb shock as intended, it results in mild or excruciating pain in the heel. For this reason, it is advisable not to wear unsupportive footwear for a prolonged period, such as ultra-heels that can cause pain in the Achilles tendon.

Unsupportive footwear puts too much pressure on your metatarsal bones and the nerves surrounding them, leading to hairline fractures.

Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis

Stabbing pain on your foot near the heel is one of the major symptoms of plantar fasciitis. For athletes, the pain worsens after working out. But there are other symptoms such as:

  • Bottom heel pain.
  • Foot arch pain.
  • Swelling of the heel.
  • Heel pain when standing for a prolonged period.
  • Excruciating pain after exercising.

For some people, the pain is usually worse in the morning but subsides as the day progresses. The presence of a heel spur, a calcium deposit that causes a bony protrusion at the bottom of the heel, can also be a sign of plantar fasciitis. A heel spur is often painless, but it can lead to the inflammation of the plantar fascia.

Who Is at Risk of Developing Plantar Fasciitis?

There’s no root cause for plantar fasciitis, but it is common among:

  • Individuals aged between 40 and 60.
  • Athletes, especially long-distance runners, ballet dancers, and aerobic dancers.
  • Overweight individuals.
  • Individuals with overly flat or high-arched feet.
  • Individuals who often wear flip-flops, including poorly fitted and worn-out shoes.

Long Term Effects of Heel Pain

Experiencing heel pain for a prolonged period may prevent you from conducting your day-to-day activities. It may also lead to pain in the knee, hip, or back. For this reason, it is always advisable to seek medical attention or implement certain lifestyle changes well in advance.

Diagnosing Heel Pain

Diagnosing Heel Pain

It is difficult to self-diagnose the cause of pain in the heel of your foot without professional assistance, preferably from a foot specialist. This is because heel pain has similar symptoms as other forms of foot problems.

Even so, you can still visit an orthopedic surgeon to diagnose this problem. This specialist will analyze your medical history and determine the possible cause of heel pain, although the number one cause is usually plantar fasciitis. The doctor may also check for signs such as:

  • A high arch on the bottom of the foot.
  • A tender area in front of the heel bone.

For proper diagnosis, they may opt for imaging analysis like x-rays, Magnetic Resonance Imaging scans (MRI), ultrasound, angiography, computed tomography, among others, to help determine the exact cause of your heel pain.

Before running an imaging study, the doctor conducts a physical examination to check for signs of inflammation on your foot. In addition, imaging tests help rule out other causes of heel pain, e.g., arthritis.

The doctor can also request a physical test such as standing on your foot or taking a brief walk. After diagnosing the heel pain problem, the doctor can either recommend surgical or non-surgical treatment. They may also recommend lifestyle changes if your heel pain problem is still in its early stages.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Doctors recommend non-surgical treatment if your heel pain results from heel spurs or an elongated plantar fascia. Non-surgical treatment often involves home remedies such as:

  • Stretching out muscles directly attached to the heel to ease the pain.
  • Using ice packs three to four times a day to relieve heel pain by temporarily numbing the heel area.
  • Using over-the-counter medication or oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce heel pain for a short time.
  • Physical therapy and practice exercises that involve stretching the heel and foot muscles to prevent heel pain, e.g., calf and plantar fascia stretch.
  • Receiving corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and heel pain.
  • Resting your foot until symptoms subside and not adding weight to the affected heel.
  • Wearing supportive shoes and avoiding non-supportive shoes that increase the stress on your plantar fascia.
  • Using orthotic shoe inserts like heel pads to give your foot the much-needed arch and heel support to alleviate pain.
  • Strapping and taping to aid in the treatment and prevention of heel pain.
  • Wearing a plantar fasciitis posterior night splint to keep your ankle in a neutral position while sleeping and to passively help in the stretching of your calf and plantar fascia.
  • Doctors can recommend a not-so-common procedure called Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) if all the other options fail.

Surgical Treatment

The majority of heel pain patients respond well to non-surgical treatment. However, there are a few cases where surgical treatment is an option, especially after months of non-surgical treatment with no positive results.

This is usually after 9 to 12 months.

You’ll need to undergo pre-surgical exams or tests to establish whether you’re an optimal candidate. Even so, it’s possible to experience post-surgery complications such as:

  • Nerve pain
  • Recurrent heel pain
  • Foot cramps
  • Stress fracture
  • Tendinitis

Recovery

Post-surgery recovery may take up to 12 months. However, in some cases, the recovery process could take a shorter period depending on how well the individual responds to treatment.

The Bottom Line

Given the number of nerves located in the human foot, it is not unusual to experience heel pain. But it is possible to get rid of this kind of pain by implementing some lifestyle changes, such as investing in supportive footwear. Additionally, it is always a great idea to consult a foot specialist if symptoms persist.

Did you know that you can get rid of pain in the heel of your foot by exercising? Consider these 6 home-based exercises for the best results.