Your heels do a lot of work supporting your other joints and absorbing the impact of your daily activities. If you have heel pain, not only can it affect your well-being, it could be pointing to a number of foot problems. Figuring out the source of your heel pain can help you get on the path to recovery.
One of the biggest causes of heel pain is plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the plantar fascia, the band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot, connecting the heel bone to your toes. If you suffer from plantar fasciitis, you probably experience stabbing pain during your first steps of the day. After you’ve been on your feet a bit, your foot will loosen up and the pain will decrease. However, if you’re on your feet for long periods the pain might return again.
Many runners experience plantar fasciitis, as it is typically caused by repeated stretching or tearing in the plantar fascia, which absorbs the shock of your steps like a bowstring. If too much tension is put on the bowstring, the tightening can create small tears. With repeated tension and tearing, the plantar fascia becomes inflamed, leading to plantar fasciitis.
People who are overweight, pregnant or those who do not wear adequately supportive footwear are also at risk for developing plantar fasciitis. To help protect your feet and reduce related heel pain, maintain a healthy weight, wear supportive shoes, and replace your running shoes before they’re worn out (every 500 miles is a good rule of thumb). To help keep your feet limber, visit the Mayo Clinic for foot stretches you can do to help plantar fasciitis.
Achilles tendonitis is another major cause of heel pain. The Achilles tendon, the largest tendon in your body, connects your calf muscles to your heel bones. The Achilles tendon is particularly active when you walk, jump, or run and Achilles tendonitis often results from overuse or stress.
Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis include pain or stiffness along the Achilles tendon first thing in the morning, pain along the back of the heel that gets worse with activity, swelling, and/or bone spurs.
You can protect yourself from Achilles tendonitis by avoiding sudden increases in the intensity or duration of your exercise. Instead, do incremental increases. Also, be sure to stretch your calf muscles before exercising.
According to WebMD, heel spurs are often associated with plantar fasciitis and occur when calcium deposits accumulate on the underside of the heel bone. They are caused by repeated strain on foot muscles and tendons such as the plantar fascia. You could be at risk for heel spurs if you have an irregular gait that puts more stress on the heel, if you run on hard surfaces, or if you wear shoes lacking proper arch support. Maintaining a healthy weight and wearing heel supports in running shoes can prevent heel spurs and related heel pain.
When to Seek Help
Heel pain can be caused by a number of other ailments such as arthritis, stress fractures, or pinched nerves. A healthy weight, proper stretching, and good shoes are essential for preventing many of the causes of heel pain. You can also use heel support inserts or foot stretchers to treat and prevent your pain. Sometimes problems persist despite your best efforts. Remember, pain is often your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Remember to see your doctor for proper diagnosis if you are in chronic pain or have heel pain accompanied by a tingling sensation.