What Causes Heel Pain?

Peter Wishnie, D.P.M.
Owner of Family Foot & Ankle Specialists in Piscataway & Hillsborough, NJ

Common Causes and Treatment of Heel Pain

Heel pain is the most common condition we treat at our New Jersey podiatrist offices. The good news is that our Family Foot & Ankle Specialists team has the experience and advanced treatment methods to resolve a majority of these cases without needing to use surgery.  

If you—or any of your family members—are suffering from heel pain, contact us and schedule an appointment. We will provide the treatment you need so you can go back to your favorite activities! 

Since early treatment is best for the conditions that cause heel pain, make sure you come and see us as soon as you realize there’s a problem. Remember, any foot pain is not normal or something to be dismissed – it’s your body’s way of letting you know there’s a problem that needs attention!

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Why Your Heel Hurts 

It’s easy to take our feet and ankles for granted when everything is functioning well. If you stop and think about it, though, these valuable appendages really do a lot for you and your body. Your feet both allow movement and support the entire skeletal structure when you stand. Due to their intricate structure, you are likely unaware how much physical force they have to endure.  

To help illustrate this, walking at a normal pace puts approximately two times your body weight in force on a foot as it lands while taking a step. 

In addition to the amount of physical force we place on our feet every day, another reason heel pain is such a prevalent problem is the fact that several conditions can cause it. Some of the more common ones include: 

  • Plantar fasciitis. This particular injury—the most common source of heel pain for adults—is caused by an inflamed tissue (plantar fascia) that runs along the underside of your foot. When the fascia is subjected to excessive stress, it can rip and become inflamed. Your body begins to mend the damage during rest, but the tears in the tissue rip back open with the first steps afterward (especially the first steps of the day). Those tears are responsible for the sharp pain associated with this injury.
  • Achilles tendonitis. Your Achilles tendon is the strongest tendon in your body, but this doesn’t mean it’s infallible. When the Achilles is overworked, it becomes inflamed and causes pain in the back of the heel. Symptoms are worse during, or right after, physical activity. They also become stronger over time. Long-distance runners and “weekend warriors” are both quite susceptible to this injury. 
  • Sever's disease. Whereas plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of adult heel pain, Sever’s is the leading cause for child and adolescent heel pain. Contrary to the name, Sever’s is not actually a disease – it’s a condition that develops when the heel bone grows more quickly than does the Achilles tendon. The resulting pulling and tightness causes pain. This is particularly problematic for active youth. 

Heel Pain Treatment and Prevention 

Heel pain is, at best, unpleasant and can keep you from favorite activities. The good news, though, is that they are normally treated effectively with nonsurgical treatment.

We have many options and methods to resolve the problem for you, including orthoticslaser therapy, shoe changes, cryotherapy, and shockwave therapy. Not all forms of treatment are right for all patients, so we will create a customized treatment plan based on your specific situation. 

Of course, preventing the problem in the first place is even better than treating it! Fortunately, most common causes of heel pain are fairly preventable. Some of the ways you can lower your risk of ending up with heel pain include: 

  • Wear proper footwear. Make sure you have the right shoes for the sports and exercises you do. Also, choose footwear that fits correctly and provides ample cushioning and arch support.
  • Beyond the shoes you wear for exerciserestrict the amount of time you spend in high-heeled shoes. Stilettos and pumps may look cute, but keep in mind that they cause excessive strain on connective tissues in your feet and lower legs.  
  • Ease into physical activity. If you start a new exercise or running program, start at relatively low levels of intensity and duration. From there, increase those levels by no more than 10% in any given week. This will give your body time to adjust to the increased amount of physical stress you are placing on it. 
  • Stretch your lower limbs. Before you run or work out, take about 5-10 minutes and do a proper warm up (followed by dynamic stretches). Make sure you target the muscles you will be using! 
  • Cross-train. Instead of relying on only running or high-impact sports (basketball, tennis, etc.) for your fitness, mix in a couple sessions of cycling, swimming, yoga, or walking during the week to lower the total amount of physical stress for your feet and heels. 

Remember, it is not normal to experience pain in the back of your foot. Instead, this is how your body tells you something is wrong and needs to be addressed. Our team at Family Foot & Ankle Specialists is ready to help, so call (908) 874-8030 to reach our Hillsborough, NJ podiatrist office or (732) 968-3833 to reach our Piscataway office and request your appointment today.