One in every ten people will experience one or more episodes of heel pain, with individuals aged 40-60 being particularly susceptible to the problem, according to the NHS. That’s a sobering thought.
Sometimes the reason your heel hurts will be obvious. You’ve got a splinter from a floorboard or stepped on a stray Lego brick, for instance. (Brave souls can attempt a Lego Fire Walk. The challenge, which is a popular way of raising money for charity, is regarded as the plastic brick equivalent of walking over hot coals!)
But the causes of heel pain aren’t always so straightforward. Not knowing exactly why your heel is sore can be very worrying, especially if the pain is making day-to-day activities challenging. Plus, you may develop an abnormal gait if you’re trying to avoid putting your weight on your painful heel.
With all that in mind, let’s explore some of the most common heel pain causes, as well as how to get a diagnosis and treatment. If you’re looking for answers about painful heels, we hope this Feet By Pody guide is a helpful starting point.
The skin on your feet has fewer natural oils than elsewhere, so it’s prone to dryness. ‘Heel fissures’ is a medical term for the painful cracks that can appear when skin is particularly dry instead of supple. It’s important to check for cracked skin in case this is the cause of your heel pain, especially if you haven’t been applying good-quality foot creams regularly.
Cracks develop when the pressure exerted on your heels while you’re standing or moving around makes the dry, inflexible skin split open. It can also enlarge and deepen existing fissures. Treading on hard, unforgiving surfaces (such as London pavements) or carrying extra weight can exacerbate the problem.
If diabetes affects your foot health, it puts you at greater risk of heel fissures. For example, nerve damage may inhibit your body’s ability to tell when your feet should sweat, resulting in drier, uncomfortable skin that’s more likely to crack.
Agonising, severe fissures bleed and are ‘potential triggers for painful, dangerous infections’, as Healthline emphasises. They prevent skin from acting as an effective barrier to germs. Essentially, they’re open wounds and require prompt medical attention.
The plantar fascia is a vital band of shock-absorbing tissue that runs along your sole. If it gets damaged (as a result of intense exercise or poor cushioning in your shoes, for example), it becomes inflamed. This is known as plantar fasciitis and leads to an awful stabbing pain in the base of your heel, near the heel bone. The pain is worst when you’ve just got up.
Although this cause of heel pain has the potential to be debilitating, you can overcome it with expert help. Foot strengthening exercises and custom-made orthotics, which take the strain off the damaged tissue, are two tried-and-tested forms of plantar fasciitis treatment.
Heel spurs are as painful as they sound. These bony protrusions are often around a quarter of an inch long and dig into the surrounding tissue, resulting in intense, sharp pain, especially during exercise.
Heel spurs develop due to an accumulation of calcium deposits in the heel bone following an injury. While extra calcium can help to strengthen the heel, excessive amounts have a detrimental effect.
Dancers who push their feet to the limits will often develop heel spurs.
As with plantar fasciitis, non-invasive approaches such as wearing orthotics can successfully treat painful heel spurs.
Your Achilles tendon connects your heel bone to your calf muscles. Perhaps you’ve pushed yourself too hard on the treadmill and it’s become inflamed. You may be feeling Achilles tendonitis pain in the back of the heel and leg. The pain could be a dull ache or intense.
As the Mayo Clinic notes, the problem ‘most commonly occurs in runners who have suddenly increased the intensity or duration of their runs’. It’s also linked to the extra strain having flat feet puts on the tendon.
The pain can be relieved with the help of foot mobilisation and manipulation: a gentle, hands-on, massage-style approach to improving foot function.
Effective Heel Pain Treatment in London
Are you worried about heel pain? Our London chiropody experts are here to help. We can assess the problem then offer a diagnosis (whether you have one of the conditions discussed above or something less common) and treatment plan.
For happier heels, book an appointment with Feet By Pody today.