Heel pain: Symptoms, Causes. Prevention and treatment

Heel pain is one of the most common foot and ankle problems. The painful area may be under the heel or behind it. This is a widespread problem that can affect individuals of all ages and backgrounds. Its effects can range from minor discomfort to serious conditions that disrupt daily life. Understanding its underlying causes, identifying its indicators and learning about prevention and treatment methods are essential to the overall well-being of your feet.

Health Shots contacted Dr. Naga Vani, Senior Physiotherapist at Kamineni Hospitals, Hyderabad, to understand everything about heel pain.

What causes heel pain?

“Heel pain arises from a variety of causes, each with its own set of contributing factors. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause. It occurs when the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue running from the heel to the toes, becomes inflamed or irritated. Common risk factors include overuse, obesity, inappropriate shoes and high arches,” the expert tells Health Shots.

Relieve foot pain caused by high heels or any other cause with these prevention and treatment tips. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Here are some common reasons why your heels hurt!

1. Achilles tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis, another common source of heel discomfort, results from inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. This condition often results from overuse, a sudden increase in physical activity, or tight calf muscles.

2. Heel spurs

Additionally, heel spurs, bony growths under the heel bone, can cause pain when they irritate surrounding tissues, often coexisting with plantar fasciitis.

3. Inflammation between the heel bone and the skin

Another contributing factor is bursitis, characterized by inflammation of the bursa between the heel bone and the Achilles tendon or skin.

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4. Stress fractures

Finally, stress fractures, tiny cracks in the heel bone due to repetitive stress or trauma, more commonly affect athletes and people engaged in high-impact activities.

Also read: Feet pain in the morning? Know what it means

Signs and Symptoms of Heel Pain

Heel pain comes in a variety of forms, ranging from mild discomfort to excruciating distress. Common symptoms of heel pain include:

• Sharp, stabbing pain, particularly noticeable in the morning or after rest.
• Swelling may accompany pain, especially in conditions like Achilles tendinitis or bursitis.
• Stiffness in the heel and surrounding area often makes movement of the foot difficult.
• If there is infection or severe inflammation, the heel may appear red and warm to the touch.

These signs and symptoms are important indicators of heel pain, facilitating both diagnosis and prompt treatment.

How to prevent heel pain?

Heel pain prevention is a proactive approach to maintaining overall foot health, involving adopting healthy lifestyle habits and addressing specific risk factors. Here are some essential preventive measures:

Also read: Stop curling your toes due to pain and learn how to remove an ingrown toenail at home

1. Choose the right shoes and avoid heels

“Opt for shoes that provide adequate arch support, cushioning and a comfortable fit. Avoid high heels or shoes with insufficient support, as they can exacerbate heel pain by straining the plantar fascia or Achilles tendon,” says the expert.

2. Maintain a healthy weight

The expert says excess body weight puts extra pressure on the feet, contributing to heel pain. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular physical activity can significantly reduce this tension, thereby mitigating the risk of heel pain.

3. Incorporate exercises that help improve strength and flexibility

“Regularly incorporate stretching exercises into your routine that can help improve the flexibility and strength of the Achilles tendon and calf muscles. Consulting a physiotherapist or fitness professional can provide personalized advice on effective exercises,” says the expert.

4. Avoid sudden changes in physical activity

Avoid sudden, intense changes in physical activity or high-impact exercises. Instead, gradually increase your activity level to allow your feet to adapt and minimize the risk of overuse injuries that lead to heel pain.

What is the best treatment for heel pain?

When heel pain occurs, prompt and appropriate treatment is essential to relieve it. The choice of treatment depends on the cause and severity of the pain. The right treatment includes:

1. Rest

“Initially, it is crucial to let your feet rest, avoiding activities that exacerbate discomfort. Applying ice to the affected area and elevating the foot can reduce inflammation and provide relief,” says the expert.

2. Physiotherapy

Physiotherapy is often recommended, where a qualified therapist prescribes exercises and stretches to improve flexibility and strength in the foot and calf. Orthopedic devices, such as custom or over-the-counter inserts, can provide better arch support and cushioning in your shoes.

3. Non-steroidal drugs

“Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories may be recommended by a doctor to relieve pain and inflammation. In more serious cases, cortisone injections can provide relief, but surgery is generally reserved as a last resort for situations that do not respond to conservative treatments,” explains the expert.

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