Heel pain is one of the most common conditions to affect the foot. It is usually felt as an intense pain when the affected heel is used. The pain is usually worse when you get out of bed in the morning or after a long period of activity. In most cases, only one heel is affected.
After walking, the pain usually improves. However, it is common for it to be painful when you first take a step after a period of rest. The pain often worsens by the end of the day.
Most cases of heel pain are caused by damage and thickening of the plantar fascia. Sometimes, the surrounding tissue and the heel bone also become inflamed (swollen).
The plantar fascia
The plantar fascia is a tough and flexible band of tissue that runs under the sole of the foot. The plantar fascia connects the heel bone with the bones of the feet, while also acting as a kind of shock absorber to the foot.
It is thought that either sudden damage or damage that occurs over many months or years can cause tiny tears, known as microtears, to develop inside the tissue of the plantar fascia. This can cause the plantar fascia to thicken, which can sometimes result in heel pain.
Plantar fasciitis is the medical term for the thickening of the plantar fascia.
How common is heel pain?
Heel pain is a very common condition. It is estimated that 1 in 10 people will have at least one episode of heel pain at some point in their life.
Two main groups of people are affected by heel pain:
- people who regularly exercise by jogging or running
- older adults aged 40-60
The long-term outlook for most cases of heel pain is good, with four out of five cases resolving within a year. However, living with the condition for this long can be frustrating, annoying and painful.
A number of treatments can be used to relieve heel pain and speed up recovery time. For example:
- calf stretches
- painkilling medication, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and corticosteroid injections
- good-fitting shoes that support and cushion the foot; running shoes are particularly useful
- supportive devices, such as orthoses (rigid supports that are placed in your shoe) or strapping
In around 1 in 20 people, the symptoms of heel pain will not respond to the types of treatment listed above. Surgery will be needed to release the plantar fascia.
www.hse.ie 2016 https://www.hse.ie/eng/health/az/H/Heel-pain/