Foot injury spotlight: Why do my heels hurt?

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Heel pain can be extremely uncomfortable and, at worst, debilitating. When it’s hard to walk, it’s difficult to lead a normal life – you’re constantly aware of each step and you may even avoid everyday tasks. So what causes heel pain? There are many conditions and injuries that can lead to to discomfort. Here are four of the most common causes of heel pain:

1. Plantar fasciitis

This is one of the leading sources of foot pain, and although it can cause discomfort along the entire length of the foot, some people only experience discomfort near the heel. According to Harvard Medical School, the pain is caused by tears in the fascia where it meets the heel bone. A fascia is a type of connective tissue that surrounds a muscle. Athletes and those with flat feet may be at a higher risk for plantar fasciitis.

Stretching exercises can help to alleviate some pain.Stretching exercises can help to alleviate some pain.

2. Plantar fibroma

This is a benign cyst that forms near the plantar fascia. The Hospital for Special Surgery noted that plantar fibromas are often mistaken for plantar fasciitis because the two conditions appear very similarly in a clinical examination. In fact, a study conducted by researchers at the hospital found that clinical diagnoses of plantar fasciitis were not confirmed by ultrasound tests. In effect, that means that false diagnoses were delaying the healing process because doctors were treating the wrong condition. This led researchers to conclude that fibromas and fascial tears are better diagnosed by ultrasound than by clinical examination alone.

3. Heel spur

An X-ray of a foot may reveal a bone-like calcium deposit on the heel called a heel spur. According to the University of Connecticut, a heel spur may even accompany plantar fasciitis. Thankfully, the treatment for both conditions is the same: resting the foot, wearing heel inserts and doing stretching exercises. Topical anti-inflammatory medications can also help eliminate some of the symptoms.

Comfortable shoes will help to lower your risk of experiencing heel pain.Comfortable shoes will help to lower your risk of experiencing heel pain.

4. Achilles tendonitis

Overuse of the Achilles tendon, which runs from the heel to the calf muscle, can lead to this painful condition. It is especially common in runners and other athletes who put extra pressure on their feet. Heel pain after running may be caused by damage to this tendon. The Mayo Clinic specified that Achilles tendonitis can start as a mild back-of-heel pain, which may increase in intensity. In very severe cases, the injury may require surgical treatment, though it can usually be cured with some special exercises and rest. Over-the-counter pain medications are usually sufficient to manage the pain while waiting for the tendon to heal.

How to prevent heel injuries

There are a few things you can do to prevent injuries to your heel. One of the easiest solutions is to wear comfortable shoes that stay flexible, yet don’t slip up and down as you walk. When exercising or playing sports, always warm up and stretch beforehand. Doing so will lower the risk of injuries like sprains and pulled muscles. If you’re trying to increase your athletic performance, do so at a slow and steady rate – sudden increases in activity can lead to tears in muscle and connective tissues. Additionally, you should try to take breaks during intense periods of exercise and ice sore areas afterwards.

If you experience pain that lasts for a long time or becomes very severe, consider making an appointment with your health care provider.

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