What is heel pain?
Heel pain is usually caused by overuse. The most common causes are plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis and arthritis.
Sever's disease a common cause of heel pain in growing children.
You should see a doctor, physiotherapist or podiatrist if you have:
- sudden, severe pain after an injury
- persistent heel pain
What symptoms are related to heel pain?
Depending on the cause of your heel pain, you may also have:
- pins and needles
- other skin changes
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What causes heel pain?
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia. This is a ligament (a piece of strong, thin tissue) that connects your heel bone to your toes. It runs along the bottom of your foot.
Bruising or overstretching the plantar fascia can cause inflammation and heel pain. Causes of plantar fasciitis include:
- having flat feet or high-arched feet
- wearing non-supportive footwear on hard surfaces
- playing sports that place a lot of stress on the heel bone
- being overweight, which puts more load onto the plantar fascia
Pain from plantar fasciitis may be worse when you first get out of bed.
It may also get worse when walking after you have 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.
Achilles tendinitis is another common cause of heel pain.
It is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which runs from your heel to your calf. This can be caused by tight calf muscles and overuse.
It often causes pain behind your heel. It might hurt to rise to stand on your toes. It can also cause:
Gently stretching your calf might help. You may need to see a physiotherapist and do special exercises if pain persists.
Arthritis can also cause pain in the heel.
Other common causes of heel pain may be:
- heel bursitis (inflammation of the back of your heel) the bursa
- heel contusion (heel bruise)
- stress fracture of the heel bone
- tarsal tunnel syndrome (a pinched nerve)
- osteomyelitis (infection of the bone)
When should I see my doctor?
If you experience heel pain symptoms that persist, see your doctor. They can refer you to specialists including:
- a physiotherapist
- a podiatrist
It's important to see a doctor if your heel pain comes on suddenly after an injury.
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.
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How is heel pain diagnosed?
Doctors, physiotherapists, and podiatrists can diagnose the cause of your heel pain. They will do this by talking to you and examining you.
Sometimes they will do:
- an x-ray
- an ultrasound
- an MRI scan
How is heel pain treated?
If you have plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis your doctor may recommend rest and home treatments. These may include stretching and strengthening your calf muscles, and the small muscles of the foot.
Initial treatment for heel pain include:
- applying ice
- anti-inflammatory medicines or painkillers
- losing any excess weight to reduce the stress on your feet
- night splints or strapping
- stopping the activities that caused your problem
- strapping your foot
- wearing supportive shoes or orthotics
How can heel pain be prevented?
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.
Complications of heel pain
If your heel pain goes untreated, you may have complications. Heel pain can affect your mobility, as it can make walking and running uncomfortable.
Resources and support
If you are concerned about symptoms, you can use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker. You can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222.
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Last reviewed: July 2022