Most pain associated with the heel can be tied to one disorder: plantar fasciitis . The plantar fascia is a long, thin ligament in the bottom of your foot that connects the heel to the front of your foot and helps support your arch.
Forces acting on the foot while walking or running cause the arch to flatten out. At the same time, the plantar fascia is trying to keep this from happening. These opposing forces put tremendous stress on the tissue. When enough continuing stress exceeds the body’s ability to heal itself, the tissue under the heel becomes injured and painful.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include severe pain, especially first thing in the morning. Most people say that it hurts from "the instant their heel touches the ground." Some even feel pain and stiffness when starting to walk after sitting for a while.
Plantar fasciitis is often seen in persons over 40 years old or in those who are overweight. There is also an increase in visits to doctors during the spring and summer months as people resume activities involving walking or running. Among runners and other athletes, shoes that do not support the foot properly commonly lead to plantar fasciitis.
Diagnosis is most often made by assessing the place (middle of the bottom of the heel) and timing (eg, early morning) of the pain. The doctor will also question you on your activity levels and your weight.
Some treatment options include:
- Avoid activities that cause a pounding of the foot. Bicycling and swimming are good alternatives for exercise during this time.
- Perform calf stretches and plantar fascia stretches
- Switch to a good pair of shoes.
- Try using over-the-counter shoe inserts.
- Put ice on the heel for 20 minutes, three times a day. Other options include special Blue Ice gel packs available at most pharmacies and many running supply stores.
- Use a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (eg, ibuprofen, naproxen). Follow the directions on the label or those given by your doctor.
Other Treatment Options
"Stretch splinting” at night can be tried to improve symptoms and reduce the duration of activity limitation. Other treatments could include:
- Physical therapy
- Steroid injections or botox injections in the heel
- Shock wave stimulation
- Cast to keep the foot immobilized
- Surgery as a last resort
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 05/2012 -
- Update Date: 05/10/2012 -