Heel Pain

Heel pain

Here we explain the common causes of heel pain, including pain under the heel and at the back of the heel.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Chaminda Goonetilleke, 20th Jan. 2022

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Select the location/type of your heel pain:

Pain under the heel

The following injuries are common causes of pain under the heel:

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis

Probably the most common cause of pain under the heel is Plantar fasciitis. Symptoms include:

  • Pain under the heel which is worse first thing in the morning
  • As your foot warms up, pain eases, only for it to return later in the day
  • Pain sometimes radiates into the arch of your foot

Bruised Heel

Bruised heel

Bruised heel, also known as fat pad contusion is another common heel injury. Usually caused by overuse it also occurs from impact such as landing on your heels. Symptoms include:

  • Gradual onset pain under the heel
  • Symptoms become worse with use, but ease with rest
  • Pain does NOT radiate into the arch of your foot as it does with plantar fasciitis

Heel Spur

Heel spur

A heel spur is a bony growth on the heel. It can occur alongside plantar fasciitis and has identical symptoms. However, a heel spur also occur without any symptoms at all. An X-ray confirms the diagnosis. Symptoms consist of:

  • Pain under the heel
  • Pain radiates into the arch of your foot

Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome is caused by pressure on the posterior tibial nerve as it passes on the inside of the ankle. Symptoms include:

  • Burning pain in the heel that can radiate into the arch of your foot.
  • The sole of the foot may feel numb or have pins and needles.

Treatment involves rest and identifying the underlying cause of the condition. Most are treated with cold therapy, physical therapy, and biomechanical assessment, however, injections and surgery are required in some cases.


Calcaneal Stress Fracture

Calcaneal stress fracture

Less common than a bruised heel, a stress fracture is a hairline fracture in the big heel bone (calcaneus). Symptoms include:

  • Heel pain that occurs gradually over time.
  • Pain gets worse with weight-bearing activities like running or jumping.
  • Often a stress fracture cannot be seen on an X-ray until it has started to heel which occurs following a significant period of rest.

A stress fracture is an overuse injury commonly seen in soldiers, roadrunners, and dancers.


Calcaneal Fracture

A calcaneal fracture can be caused by a fall or jumping from a great height. Sudden heel pain at the time of impact.

  • Severe pain, swelling, and bruising are the main symptoms.
  • This is a serious heel injury and needs urgent medical care.

Medial calcaneal nerve entrapment

Medial calcaneal nerve entrapment, often called ‘Baxter’s nerve’ has similar symptoms to that of tarsal tunnel syndrome. It is caused by compression of a nerve in the foot. Symptoms consist of:

  • Pain that radiates from the inside, out towards the centre of the heel.
  • You may feel a burning pain below the medial malleolus (bony bit on the inside of the ankle).
  • Pain may also radiate under the sole and into the arch of the foot.
  • Activities such as running will usually aggravate the condition.
  • You may have tenderness when pressing in over the medial malleolus.
  • A positive sign for tinels test will be seen on examination.

Pain at the back of the heel

The following injuries are common causes of pain at the back of the heel:

Sever’s Disease

Sever's disease heel pain

This largely affects children aged 8-15 years old, especially if they do a lot of sport. Symptoms consist of:

  • Pain and tenderness at the back of the heel which gets worse with exercise.
  • Sometimes a lump is seen at the back of the heel.
  • Squeezing the sides of the back of the heel will feel particularly tender.

Sever’s disease is often linked to a growth spurt when the muscles and tendons can’t keep up with the bone changes.

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Insertional Achilles Tendonitis

Insertional achilles tendonitis

Insertional Achilles Tendonitis causes pain at the back of the heel at the point where the Achilles tendon inserts into the heel bone. The injury is similar to Sever’s disease in children but affects adults. The main symptoms are:

  • Pain at the back of the heel
  • Sometimes a lump develops where the Achilles tendon inserts into the calcaneus or heel bone.

Achilles Bursitis heel pain

Achilles bursitis, also known as Retrocalcaneal bursitis is a common cause of pain at the back of the heel in athletes, particularly runners.

  • There will be tenderness and swelling at the back of the heel.
  • Swelling will feel ‘spongy’ when pressing it at the sides.
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Cold therapy

Heel pain – not to be missed!

The following are not common causes, however, may cause heel pain symptoms and should not be overlooked.

  • Bone and tissue tumours like osteoid osteoma, are rare and are less likely than the above injuries to be causing the pain. If the pain is persistent, however, medical advice should be sought.
  • After a knee or ankle injury, regional complex pain syndrome may cause pain in the heel.
  • Spondyloarthropathies are joint diseases that may cause pain in various body parts, including the foot.

Rehabilitation & exercises

We have the following rehab programs, exercises & treatment videos available:

References

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