Approximately 15 percent of all Americans suffer from heel pain at some point in their lifetime. This sharp, stabbing pain at the bottom of the foot can affect anyone—from runners, dancers, and other athletes—to people whose job involves a lot of standing and pressure on the foot. An estimated 2 million people in the United States alone require treatment every year. Here are five things you should know about heel pain:
1. Heel pain is most often caused by plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that extends from the heel to the toes. This pain occurs when the tissue becomes irritated and then inflamed. The inflammation is often caused by putting repetitive stress on the foot. Other culprits include changes in your activity, non-supportive shoes or structural foot problems, such as overly flat feet or high-arched feet.
2. Not all heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis.
Your heel pain could be the result of a stress fracture, tendonitis, arthritis, nerve irritation, or (rarely) a cyst or tumor of the foot. This is why it’s important to visit a podiatrist. Podiatrists are expertly trained to determine the underlying source of your heel pain. In addition to a thorough foot exam, your podiatrist may use diagnostic imaging studies, such as x-rays, MRI or other tests.
3. Most cases of plantar fasciitis can be resolved with the following easy, at-home treatments:
• Daily exercises that stretch the calf muscles and arch of your foot, such as a runner’s lunge
- An ice pack or frozen water bottle applied on your heel for 20 minutes several times a day
• Resting your heel by limiting physical activities
• Wearing supportive shoes that have good arch support and a slightly raised heel
• Anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen or naproxen
4. If your heel pain doesn’t improve after a few weeks, a podiatrist can offer a customized treatment plan that may include:
• Orthotic devices that fit into your shoe
• Corticosteroid injections
• A removable walking cast to keep your foot immobile for a few weeks
• A night splint to maintain an extended stretch while sleeping
• Physical therapy
5. A small percentage of patients may require surgery.
Your podiatrist may consider surgical treatments if the pain is still restricting your daily activity after several months of conservative care. It is also possible to perform minimally invasive procedures to provide pain relief and quick recovery.
Remember, no matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you should continue preventive measures, such as wearing supportive shoes and stretching. With a little time and effort, your heel pain can be a thing of the past.
Dr. Noah Oliver is a contributing writer for this article.