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Man with heel pain having a foot massage.

Man with heel pain having a foot massage.
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Heel pain

3-minute read

Heel pain is usually caused by overuse. The most common causes are plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis and arthritis. If you have heel pain that persists, you should see a doctor or physiotherapist.

What causes heel pain?

Plantar fasciitis

Having a faulty foot structure such as flat feet or high arched feet, or wearing non-supportive footwear on hard surfaces, can cause your plantar fascia, a thick, strong structure on the bottom of your foot, to become tight, pulling on where it attaches to your heel bone.

This can make the fascia and heel inflamed and sore. This is known as plantar fasciitis.

People with plantar fasciitis often say the pain is worse when they first get out of bed, or when they walk after they’ve been sitting still for a while. The pain is usually felt in the sole of the foot and the bottom of the heel. It usually eases after a few minutes of walking. Long term remedies include wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using orthotics.

Achilles tendinitis

Achilles tendinitis is another common cause of heel pain. It is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which runs from the heel to the calf.

It often causes pain behind the heel. It can also cause swelling, warmth and tenderness there. It might hurt to rise to stand on your toes. It can be caused by tight calf muscles and overuse.

Gently stretching the calf might help. You may need to see a physiotherapist and do special exercises if pain persists.

Other causes

Arthritis can also cause pain in the heel. Other common causes of heel pain may be:

  • heel bursitis - inflammation of the back of the heel, the bursa (a fibrous sac full of fluid)
  • stress fracture - this can be caused by repetitive stress, strenuous exercise, sports or heavy manual work.
  • Tarsal tunnel syndrome - a pinched nerve
  • fibromyalgia - a chronic condition that causes pain in the muscles
  • heel pad wear and tear
  • osteomyelitis - infection of the bone

Heel pain diagnosis

A doctor or a physiotherapist is able to diagnose the cause of heel pain by talking to you and examining you.

Heel pain treatment

Your doctor or physiotherapist may recommend rest and home treatments such as stretching your calf muscles if you have plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis.

Other treatments may include:

  • applying ice
  • anti-inflammatory medicines or painkillers
  • night splints or strapping
  • supportive footwear or orthotics
  • losing any excess weight to reduce the stress on your feet

If you are exercising and feel a sudden pain in the back of the leg, you may have ruptured your Achilles tendon. Seek medical help immediately.

Heel pain prevention

Reducing stress on the feet helps to prevent heel injury and pain. Stretching and a warm-up before exercise can help. If you feel pain in your tendon, you should stop the exercise. Always wear correctly fitted, supportive footwear suitable for your activity.

Last reviewed: January 2018

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