Imagine what could happen to a tall building if something went wrong with the underlying structure. Like the footings of a building, your feet and ankles are designed to provide a strong and safe foundation for your body. However, that means they also endure a lot of stress from your weight, especially when you run and jump. You land on the back of your foot with every step you take, so if you develop heel pain, it can quickly take you out of action. Fortunately, many reasons for pain in your heels can be addressed with common treatments that don’t involve surgery.
Heels Hurt? Could Be….
- Plantar fascia problems: This tough band of tissue under your foot connects your toe and heel bones and for many reasons (genetics, diabetes, excess weight, poor shoes, etc.) could begin to degenerate, a condition called plantar fasciosis or chronic plantar heel pain (CPHP). Plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of this tissue, is less common, but also a possibility.
- Stone bruise: Damage to the fat pad under the heel can cause pain, with possible swelling or change in color.
- Bone spur: extra bone growth can occur underneath or at the back of your heel bone (calcaneus) and press against other tissues, causing discomfort.
- Bursitis: Small sacs of gel-like fluid that cushion between bone and tendons can become irritated and inflamed. This is fairly common at the back of your foot where the Achilles tendon inserts into the calcaneus.
- Fracture or stress fracture: Your heel bone can break or develop tiny cracks in the surface just like other bones in your body.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: This autoimmune disease attacks the lining and cartilage in the joints, causing aching and inflammation that can make them stiff and impair your movements.
- Nerve problems: Either damage to a nerve (neuropathy) or a pinched nerve (entrapment) can make it malfunction, causing numbness and lack of sensation or tingling, sharp pains.
Habits That Risk Heel Pain
Your Achilles tendon, calcaneus, and plantar fascia are all connected in a system that helps you move. The Achilles attaches your calf muscles to your heel bone. This allows muscles to move the foot up and down and enables you to stand on tiptoe and push off for each step. The plantar fascia continues from the heel bone to the toes, helping to define your foot arch. This strong tissue lengthens and contracts as needed to add spring to your step and absorb the impact of your feet hitting the ground.
This constant movement and pressure on these connectors can overwork them, causing the fibers in them to start to fray. When you overdo it and don’t allow them to rest and heal from this damage, they become even weaker and won't do their job properly.
Extra stress is also put on them by shoes that force your foot into odd positions or don’t give proper support under the arch (think high heels and flats without a shaped shoe inserts). The habits of overuse and wearing poor shoes greatly increase your odds of ending up with painful heels.
Help for Heel Pain in South Central Idaho
When your heels hurt, it is important to find out exactly what is wrong. That’s where a foot specialist like Dr. Matt Wettstein can help. Podiatrists are trained and specialize in the care of feet and ankles, and we understand how the various parts work together. We can pinpoint what is causing your sore heels and target it with the right treatment. Usually good results can be obtained with rest, icing to reduce swelling, judicious use of pain relievers, and using orthotics or special boots to support and reduce pressure on the calcaneus and other tissues while they heal. In some cases, we may also recommend state-of-the-art laser therapy to relieve pain and inflammation.
Give Advanced Foot and Ankle a call at (208)-731-6321 to set up an appointment at our Twin Falls office, or (208)-312-4646 to reach our Burley, ID office, or schedule right now using our online contact form. We look forward to helping you!