Knowing when to visit a doctor can feel like quite a guessing game. Pain on our heels can be a tricky one since there are so many potential causes. Here are ten possible culprits to your heel pain, their severity, and whether or not you should visit a podiatrist for your pain.
Potential Causes of Heel Pain
1. Plantar fasciitis.
When the band on the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toes is strained, it causes plantar fasciitis. The pain from plantar fasciitis is heavily concentrated near the heel of your foot.
Whether to see a doctor for plantar fasciitis is debatable. If it is a mild case, you may be able to treat it with stretches, ice, and strong arch supports in your shoes. For a more severe case, you will want to visit your podiatrist.
However, plantar fasciitis might be difficult to self-diagnose. Stress fractures, Achilles tendonitis, and other conditions can have similar symptoms to plantar fasciitis, and they require different treatments. Incorrectly treating an injury can prolong the symptoms or even make things worse.
2. Achilles tendonitis.
The Achilles will become inflamed, resulting in tendonitis if it is overused. This condition typically manifests itself in people who participate in sports that involve a lot of jumping. Minor and moderate Achilles tendonitis treatment will include resting your leg and alleviating the pain with over-the-counter medication. For more severe cases, you will want to call your podiatrist.
3. Heel spur.
As if the pain from plantar fasciitis itself wasn’t enough, if it isn’t treated quickly enough, it can lead to a calcium deposit known as a heel spur. An x-ray from your podiatrist can help you see if you have a bony protrusion on your heel where the fascia tissue band meets it. These are fixed by following the same plantar fasciitis treatment.
4. Stress fracture.
Stress fractures are tiny cracks in a bone. They are typically caused by overuse. They are most typically found in weight-bearing bones on the legs and feet and can be found in individuals who make a repetitive motions for a long time, such as jumping or distance running. Bones are designed to heal, but you will want to create an environment where bone healing is most conducive. A podiatrist may be able to help you determine what would be helpful on your healing journey.
5. Trapped nerves.
If you are experiencing numbness and tingling along with your heel pain, you might have a trapped or compressed nerve. Trapped nerves are often associated with sprains or fractures. Varicose veins can also play a part in trapped nerves. If you are unable to alleviate the pain with rest, ice, and over-the-counter medications, you might want to give your podiatrist a call.
6. Calcaneal apophysitis.
This type of heel pain affects the back of the heel instead of the bottom, as it is an inflammation of the bone area around the growth plate. Calcaneal apophysitis, also known as Sever’s disease, is common among children, but especially among children engaging in sports requiring a lot of jumping. It can also be caused by new shoes straining this part of the foot. A podiatrist can help provide strengthening exercises as well as preventative measures.
Most joints have a bursa, which is a sac that allows muscles and tendons to move while a joint is moving without a problem. Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursa sac. Pain from bursitis may manifest itself at the back of the heel or the bottom of the heel. Bursitis may heal on its own, but chronic or recurring cases of it might benefit from the insight of a podiatrist.
8. Fat pad atrophy.
As we age, muscles wear down or atrophy. When the fat pad of our heel atrophies, it can cause pain. This pain is typically not present first thing in the morning, but it will become more pronounced throughout the day. Fat pad atrophy is most common in older individuals. Meeting with a podiatrist can help you ensure nothing more nefarious is happening, but a podiatrist can also steer you in the right direction for custom molded foot orthotics, padded socks, and other products that will help your pain.
9. Stone bruise.
A stone bruise refers to any bruise on the heel that was caused by a small object. Most parents experience this when their children go through their Lego phase. Though excruciatingly painful, especially after the pain of disappointment knowing your child didn’t clean up their room again, these types of bruises or injuries will heal on their own and require no medical attention. If, however, it does not heal, it might not be a stone bruise after all.
10. Posterior calcaneal exostosis.
This condition is most common in young women, as it is caused by wearing high-heeled pumps. It is a bony growth at the back of the heel. Minor cases can be healed with custom orthotics, but more severe cases may require surgery.
Should I Visit the Podiatrist?
Some of these pains are minor and will resolve on their own, but some will require help from a professional to help your heel heal properly. You should visit your podiatrist for heel pain if you:
- Experience excessive pain that is severe enough that it changes how you walk
- Have heel pain that lasts several weeks
- Have swelling and tenderness
- Feel an increase in pain during or after exercising
When in doubt, your local podiatrist can, at the minimum, provide you with peace of mind about your pain.