Heel Pain: The 3 Most Common Causes

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Heel pain tops the list of chronic foot pain experienced by most Americans. A record 87% of women and 68% of men describe experiencing some type of heel pain at some point in their adult lives. The reasons for heel pain can be attributed to poor choices in footwear, standing or walking for the better part of the day, obesity, and overuse, as in athletics or fitness regimens.

All heel pain isn’t the same, and for those who are suffering, there’s no single, easy remedy for heel pain. Depending on the cause of your pain, you may find orthotics, anti-inflammatory pain relievers, physical therapy, or a combination of all three will provide you with relief. If overuse is the cause, it might be necessary to sit out your activities for a while in order to fully heal your heel.

For some experiencing heel pain, it may be necessary to treat your condition with a regenerative therapy, such as platelet-rich plasma (PRP), or stem cells. Regenerative treatment has proven especially successful when used to treat chronic plantar fasciitis. Dr. Gabriel Maislos of Houston Foot & Ankle Care specializes in heel pain treatment, including PRP, and stem-cell regenerative therapy.

Common causes of heel pain

Of course, before any treatment is decided upon, you need to find out the source of your heel pain. There are three common reasons for this type of chronic pain in adults and even some children. Here’s a look at them.

1. Plantar fasciitis

The plantar fascia is a ligament that stretches between your heel bone, and your toes. The plantar fascia is instrumental in movement of the foot, such as when you push off from a standing position, pivot, or land after a jump or run. When too much pressure is placed on this ligament it can cause injury, inflammation, and pain.

Activities, such as running, jumping, and standing for long periods of time can cause injury to your plantar fascia. Improper warm-up routines before exercise can contribute to stress on the plantar fascia. Conditions like arthritis, arch abnormalities, obesity, and fibromyalgia can contribute to plantar fasciitis. Even unsupportive, ill-fitting footwear can cause you to experience symptoms of plantar fasciitis.

The symptoms of this common cause of heel pain are:

  • Sharp pain, inside the heel, just behind the arch of your foot
  • Stiffness and pain upon waking, or after long periods of sitting
  • Pain and a tight feeling when flexing the foot
  • Tenderness to the heel
  • Burning and tingling in the foot

Plantar fasciitis is treatable, and the treatment is highly effective. Depending on the degree of your injury, or damage to the ligament, Dr. Maislos will use a customized approach to address, and heal, your plantar fasciitis.

2. Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome

Tarsal tunnel syndrome in the foot is quite similar to carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist and hand. In both cases there is a tunnel between the bones and the tough fibrous tissue. Inside of the tarsal tunnel there lie arteries, veins, and tendons, as well as a nerve known as the posterior tibial nerve.

When the nerve becomes compressed, due to injuries, bone spurs, a cyst, known as a ganglion, strained muscles, varicose veins, swollen tendons, or certain foot deformities, you will experience symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome, including:

  • Burning and tingling along the base of the foot and heel
  • Heel pain, shooting or constant
  • Pain over the entire foot, ankle, and calf

There are many different ways to treat your tarsal tunnel syndrome and relieve your symptoms.

3. Heel pad atrophy

Your heels are cushioned by a pad of fat that acts as a shock-absorber and protects the bone of your heel. As the mileage you put on your feet begins to add up, the heel pad becomes worn and thins out. This condition is known as heel pad atrophy.

The biggest contributor to heel pad atrophy tends to be age. That makes sense, as the older you are, the more miles you’ve logged. Other factors contributing to this condition are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and scleroderma, all of which affect the connective tissue in the foot. Obesity and type 2 diabetes also create pressure on the heel pad. Distance, endurance, and lifelong runners experience heel pad atrophy as well. So do those individuals who spend a great deal of time in ill-fitting shoes.

The major symptom that drives most patients to seek help is the pain in the heel caused by inflammation of the bursa. This pain can be constant and cause a tense, tight feeling in your heel. In addition to bursitis pain, the absence of your heel pad fat may be felt when you are physically active on your feet. Dancing, working out, and even walking will cause you to feel some pretty intense pain.

Treatment options are dependent upon the degree of atrophy, which can be determined by Dr. Maislos, through imaging tests.

Don’t endure your heel pain.

There’s no reason for anyone to simply “live with” their heel pain. Especially when relief is available. If you’re experiencing pain in your heel, or any type of foot, or leg pain, contact Houston Foot & Ankle Care, located in Houston, Texas. Our team wants you to live a pain-free life.