What Causes Heel Pain (and What to Do About It)

Dr. Corey Fox
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Director of Massapequa Podiatry Associates

If you have been enduring persistent heel pain – anything from sharp morning wake-up calls to dull aches that last for hours – chances are you are less interested in what is causing your problem and more interested in how to get rid of it!

That’s an understandable sentiment to have, and our job is to find you the heel pain relief you very much deserve. That said, understanding the source of that pain is essential to determining the right treatment.

Different People, Different Heel Pains

Heel pain is a very common condition. It would not be difficult to fill a stadium with people who all struggle with that common bond.

However, the ways that these people experience their heel pain and the causes behind each condition can vary to a surprising degree!

Heel pain might seem like a basic symptom, but its roots can lie in a range of different conditions. Different areas in and around the heel can also be at the center of the problem.

For example, pain that is experienced on the underside of the heel (and often toward the front of it) may be plantar fasciitis. This condition involves straining and tearing of the plantar fascia, a strong band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the base of the toes.

But what if your pain is located more in the back of your heel, or just above it? That might be Achilles tendinitis, when the titular tendon that connects the heel bone to your calf muscles becomes inflamed. Or it might be bursitis, when a fluid-filled sac that serves as cushioning between the Achilles tendon and the bone becomes aggravated. 

And these are just a few potential conditions. Pinched nerves, stress fractures, and other problems are also possibilities.

And on top of all this, the reasons why these conditions develop can differ as well.

What Can Cause Heel Pain Conditions?

It is often not enough to know that you have a strained plantar fascia or other problem causing your heel pain. The symptoms can be treated, but if we also don’t address why that condition developed in the first place, those symptoms are likely to return soon.

There are many potential reasons why an injury or other heel pain-causing condition has developed. Some of the more common include:

  • Overuse. Our bodies are conditioned to endure certain amounts of stress at a given time. If we move too intensely, or for long periods of time without providing enough time for rest and recovery, we can overstress and eventually injure ourselves.

  • Structural abnormalities. Our feet may be structured in a way that forces excess weight and stress upon certain areas. Flat feet and high arches are common abnormalities that may contribute to heel pain.

  • Improper footwear. Much like having a natural structural abnormality, wearing certain shoes can also force stress to focus on certain areas of the foot. Other types of shoes might not provide the heel and arch enough support, also contributing to heel pain.

  • Environmental factors. Do you have to stand or move around all day, especially on hard surfaces? Even if you’re barefoot at home, this can take a toll. We’ve seen it become more common as more jobs have shifted to working from home.

Note that more than one factor can be contributing to your heel pain. Addressing all that are playing a role will be the key to best treatment.

Treating Your Heel Pain

As you might suspect, the first step toward treating any case of heel pain is knowing exactly what we’re dealing with. Getting there often means not only a thorough examination, but also asking you questions. When do your heels tend to hurt most? What are your daily activities? What types of shoes do you wear? Answers to questions such as these will help us more quickly narrow down the culprits.

Additionally, anything you feel might be important to your case is something we will always want to hear about, no matter how small or inconsequential it might seem to you. And if you have a well-used pair of shoes, please bring them in as well. We can tell a lot about your feet by examining the wear patterns on your treads.

Once we have all the info we need, we can recommend a treatment plan to best address your situation. Plans can of course differ from patient to patient, and may consist of one or more recommendations. Some of them may include:

  • Changes to your footwear, activity choices, or activity intensities.
  • Making changes to your environment, such as putting down anti-fatigue mats where you most frequently stand.
  • The use of custom orthotic inserts to redistribute weight across the feet and offload excess stress from target areas.
  • Stretches and conditioning exercises to help lessen stress on specific areas.
  • Advanced technologies such as laser therapy, EPAT, and Tenex to aid in pain relief and faster recovery.

Surgery is rarely ever required for heel pain treatment. It will only ever be considered if more conservative treatments such as those above fail to provide the results we are looking for. Should surgery be a potential course of action, we will always fully discuss all available options and what you could expect of them – as well as answer any questions you may have before deciding how best to move forward.

Find the Answers for Your Heel Pain

No matter what may ultimately be causing you persistent heel pain, it’s never something that you should just “learn to live with.” Most heel pain cases are effectively resolved within a few months of treatment, and we would be more than happy to help you be one of those cases.

Schedule an appointment with our office by phone or by filling out our online contact form

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