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Heel pain

Alternative Names

Pain - heel

Common Causes

Heel pain is most often the result of overuse. Rarely, it may be caused by an injury.

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Your heel may become tender or swollen from:

  • Shoes with poor support or shock absorption
  • Running on hard surfaces like concrete
  • Running too often
  • Tightness in your calf muscle or the Achilles tendon
  • Sudden inward or outward turning of your heel
  • Landing hard or awkwardly on the heel

Conditions related to heel pain include:

  • Achilles tendinitis, inflammation of the large tendon that connects your calf muscle to your heel
  • Bursitis, inflammation of the back of the heel
  • Bone spurs in the heel
  • Plantar fasciitis, swelling of the thick band of tissue on the bottom of your foot
  • Calcaneus fracture, fracture of the heel bone that is related to landing very hard on your heel from a fall

Home Care

The following steps may help relieve your heel pain:

  • Rest as much as possible for at least a week.
  • Apply ice to the painful area. Do this at least twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes, more often in the first couple of days.
  • Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
  • Wear proper-fitting shoes.
  • A heel cup, felt pads in the heel area, or shoe insert.
  • Night splints.

Other treatments depend on the cause of your heel pain.

Call your health care provider if

Call your doctor if your heel pain does not get better after 2 - 3 weeks of home treatments. Also call if:

  • Your pain is getting worse despite home treatment
  • Your pain is sudden and severe
  • You have redness or swelling of your heel
  • You cannot put weight on your foot

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as:

  • Have you had this type of heel pain before?
  • When did your pain begin?
  • Do you have pain upon your first steps in the morning or after your first steps after rest?
  • Is the pain dull and aching or sharp and stabbing?
  • Is it worse after exercise?
  • Is it worse when standing?
  • Did you fall or twist your ankle recently?
  • Are you a runner? If so, how far and how often do you run?
  • Do you walk or stand for long periods of time?
  • What kind of shoes do you wear?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

Your doctor may order a foot x-ray. Treatment depends on the cause of your foot pain. You may need to see a physical therapist to learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your foot. Your doctor may recommend a night splint to help stretch your foot.

Prevention

Maintaining flexible and strong muscles in your calves, ankles, and feet can help prevent some types of heel pain. Always stretch and warm-up before exercising.

Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes with good arch support and cushioning. Make sure there is enough room for your toes.

References

Wapner KL, Parekh SG. Heel pain. In: DeLee JC, Drez D Jr,Miller MD, eds. DeLee and Drez’s Orthopaedic Sports Medicine. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:section F.

Abu-Laban RV, Ho K. Ankle and foot. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 55.

Updated: 1/17/2013

C. Benjamin Ma, MD, Assistant Professor, Chief, Sports Medicine and Shoulder Service, UCSF Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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