Heel pain can range in severity from being simply irritating to completely debilitating. The complex nature of the foot — each foot contains 26 bones, 30 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments — can make it difficult for an untrained person to tell what’s going wrong. Heel pain can have any number of root causes, some of which are far more serious than others.
Here at Freedom Sports Medicine, our highly qualified team of Lilydale podiatrists have experience treating a wide range of heel issues. While we do offer sports medicine services, many of our podiatry patients are normal, everyday people, looking for a trusted solution to their heel pain.
A guide to the heel
The majority of your weight rests on your heel, making it a very important part of the body. It contains the calcaneus, or the heel bone, which is the largest bone in the foot. A number of muscles and tendons are attached to the heel, including the achilles, which is the largest and strongest tendon in the body.
One of the main roles of the heel is to evenly distribute force throughout the foot, as well as providing shape and structure to the arch.
Factors behind heel pain
There is a myriad of reasons as to why you might be experiencing heel pain. The heel experiences significant stress daily, and it’s not a part of the body that we often think to take care of — until something goes wrong.
We often find the root cause of heel pain to be one of the following:
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia — a long, thin ligament that connects the heel to the front of your foot — becomes inflamed. The plantar fascia, along with the heel itself, absorbs much of the force and shock that we place on our feet, whether we’re walking, running, or jumping. Overtime, repetitive movements can cause excessive inflammation, dull sharp pain, and a swollen heel.
A bursae is a small, fluid-filled sac that protects and cushions our joints. They are found all throughout the body, including the heel. Bursitis occurs when bursae become inflamed, usually due to frequent, repetitive movements. Inflammatory arthritis, gout, and infection can also exacerbate this issue.
A heel spur is caused by a calcium deposit growing between your heel bone and the arch of your foot. Sometimes this deposit causes pain, other times it may go under detected. Heel spurs tend to occur over a long period of time and due to frequent muscle and ligament sprains.
People diagnosed with heel spurs are often also found to be suffering from plantar fasciitis.
A bone infection, or osteomyelitis, is a relatively uncommon condition that tends to affect children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing health conditions like diabetes. Osteomyelitis can occur in any bone throughout the body and happens when tissue from a nearby wound becomes infected with bacteria or fungus.
Osteomyelitis of the heel can be painful, cause long-term damage, and tends to involve a lengthy recovery period.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosing heel pain can involve any combination of an x-ray, blood test, MRI, ultrasound, or a simple physical examination.
Your treatment will, of course, depend on exactly what the issue is. Often, heel pain will disappear in its own time without the need for physical therapy or medication. Your podiatrist may simply recommend that you spend less time on your feet. If the situation is more severe, popular physical therapies include:
- Injections: Plantar fasciitis and bursitis are often treated using a steroid injection to help nullify pain and swelling.
- Orthotics: Often, the root cause of heel pain is poor foot alignment. This can be amended through the use of custom-made orthotics, which can provide extra support when standing, walking, or running.
- Stretching exercises: If your heel pain is caused by tight tendons and muscles, simple stretching exercises performed when you get up in the morning, before you go to sleep at night or prior to physical activity may be the solution.
At Freedom Sports Medicine, our Lilydale podiatrists have treated all types of patients suffering from all manner of foot injuries. We’re confident that our skills and experience will enable us to provide you with an informed diagnosis and tailored treatment plan.
Preventing heel pain
Wondering what steps you can take to prevent heel pain?
One of the best things you can do is wear properly fitted shoes. This goes for running shoes but also boots, sandals, heels, and general sneakers. Ensure you’re providing your feet with plenty of support — they go through a lot!
Often, the root cause of heel pain is overexertion. If you’re running seven days a week without giving your body proper time to rest, you could end up with a painfully inflamed heel.
For more tips and tricks or to discuss your heel pain with a qualified Lilydale podiatrist, contact Freedom Sports Medicine today.