Heel pain is relatively common, especially as people age and among people who spend long periods of time standing on their feet. It’s also very common among runners and other athletes where repetitive impact can eventually take a toll on the tissues. Being overweight or obese can also increase the likelihood of developing painful symptoms in and around the heel. Often, heel pain develops when a fibrous band of tissue called the plantar fascia becomes irritated and inflamed. Hard calcium deposits called heel spurs can also result in painful symptoms, as can arthritis.
How is heel pain diagnosed?
Heel pain can sometimes be diagnosed through a medical history, a review of symptoms and a physical examination of the foot and ankle, including simple exercises to determine the movements that are causing painful symptoms to occur. Sometimes, x-rays or other diagnostic imaging, such as ultrasounds, may need to be performed to determine the underlying cause and to help guide treatment. When nerve involvement is suspected, nerve function testing or conduction studies may also be performed.
What treatments are available for heel pain?
Like other types of painful foot conditions, heel pain can require different types of treatment depending on the underlying cause. Typically, conservative options like oral medications, steroid injections and custom orthotics are used first, accompanied by stretching exercises or physical therapy as needed. If the plantar fascia is involved, special splints may be used to help gently stretch the tissue and improve flexibility over time. Lifestyle changes including losing excess weight or changing shoe style may also help. In cases where the causes of heel pain are more complex and conservative options aren’t effective in providing relief, surgery may be recommended to remove heel spurs, reposition the plantar fascia where it attaches to the heel, or provide other corrective measures.