What could be causing your heel pain?

Heel pain sucks. Yep, we said it, and unfortunately, we hear things a lot worse about their heel pain from our patients every day. Heel pain, and foot pain generally, is one of those frustrating problems where all of a sudden you realised how much you’ve taken walking around pain-free for granted for your entire life. And it’s true – it’s a debilitating injury that impacts your whole day and ability to not just do the things you love, but just complete your everyday tasks and chores.

It comes with no surprise that one of the first things that pass through the mind when pain develops and you realise it’s not going away is: let’s google it.

Despite his numerous degrees, years of clinical experience and uncanny ability to assess and analyse your exact symptoms without even seeing you (which happens to leave the majority of people worried and panicked), we thought we’d give you the low-down on the most common causes of heel pain that we see here in clinic (from our experience, l degrees, and because this is what we do all day, every day).

Below you’ll find the name of the condition, a simple description of what it is, the symptoms/any defining features to look out for. We would include a ‘how to treat it’ section, but unfortunately, heel pain is not something you want to be messing around with. Because you walk on your heel and use them with every step, treating heel pain is significantly more difficult and you just want it seen to and effectively treated before it gets worse (which for a lot of people, it does without proper treatment).

1. Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is probably the most common cause of heel pain we see. It describes damage to an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a soft tissue band that runs from the bottom of your heel and fans out along the bottom of your foot to attach to your toes. You’re more likely to develop plantar fasciitis if you have a flatter foot type. 

The symptoms are:

  • Pain at the bottom (and for some toward the inside) of the heel
  • Pain may radiate up into the arch
  • Pain is the worse first thing in the morning, then may ease after the first few minutes
  • Pain comes on when standing again after resting
  • Swelling may or may not be present

2. Abductor Hallucis Tendinopathy

Abductor hallucis tendinopathy describes damage/injury to the abductor hallucis muscle, which runs from the bottom/inside of your heel to the big toe. This cause of heel pain is often missed because it shares similar attachment points to the plantar fascia, so can be misdiagnosed as plantar fasciitis. Your abductor hallucis works in the movement of the big toe, especially when the toes are spread out.

 Symptoms are similar to plantar fasciitis and can include:

  •  Pain/tenderness at the bottom and inside of the heel
  • Pain through the arch
  • Pain on standing in the mornings
  • Pain on standing after rest

3. Achilles Tendinopathy

Achilles tendinopathy describes damage to the Achilles tendon that causes pain at the back of the heel. The Achilles tendon is the thick band that connects the muscles at the back of your leg to your heel bone. The Achilles tendon plays an important role in helping us walk and movements like pointing our toes.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain at the back of the heel that can radiate up the back of the leg
  • Pain that is exacerbated by physical activity, particularly running
  • Stiffness at the back of the heel
  • Swelling/inflammation at the back of the heel

4. Sever’s Disease

Sever’s disease is not really a disease, but a temporary condition during stages of growth in kids. It describes the irritation of the growth plate located at the back of the heel. Growth plates are present in all growing bones and solidify once the bone has reached full maturity. Irritation and discomfort occur when strain and forces from surrounding muscles and tissues pull on the area around the growth plate. This is most common in active, growing kids between the ages of 8 and 15 years old.

Symptoms can include:

  • Pain, tenderness and discomfort at the bottom of the heel
  • Pain during and after physical activity
  • Both sharp pains and dull aches
  • Tightness in the muscles at the back of the legs
  • Swelling at the back of the heel

5. Heel Fractures

There are two types of fractures to mention here: regular fractures and stress fractures. Regular fractures are the typical ones you think of when you see someone sustain an injury, like a tackle or jumping down from a high surface. It involves a break or crack(s) in the heel bone. A stress fracture, however, doesn’t usually involve an incident but builds up from repetitive strain over time. This results in tiny cracks through the bone, which may appear like tree roots. Regardless of the cause, they both need good care to ensure proper healing.

Symptoms can include:

  • Sharp pain at the heel (regular fractures)
  • Dull, aching pain that can start very mildly (stress fracture)
  • Tenderness in the area of the heel
  • Difficulty putting the heel down and bearing weight (mild to severe)

Other Causes 

Of course, there are multiple other causes of heel pain ranging from problems with the fat pad of the heel, nerve issues, skin conditions (cracked heels, warts, corns) and more.

The Next (non-painful!) Step

Regardless of the diagnosis, the next step is to see one of our experienced podiatrists in Toowoomba so it can be thoroughly assessed and the best course of treatment can be started. The sooner you commence treatment, the sooner you’ll get back to feeling great on your feet again! 

Here at The Podiatrist, we specialise in heel pain and use advanced and innovative technologies and methods to get you out of pain and realising your full potential as quickly as possible. For more information or to make an appointment, you can give us a call on 07 4638 3022 or book online here.

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