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Heel pain: causes, treatment and prevention

Updated: February 2020


Heel pain, known in medical terms as talalgia, most commonly occurs when walking or exercising, but it can also occur at rest. This sharp pain usually affects a single foot, and you may feel it at the back of your heel, underneath it, around the outside of your heel, or all over the heel area.

Causes of heel pain

Heel pain can have multiple causes. The heel is made up of tendons, ligaments, and two bones, all of which could be the cause of your pain. The pain could also be caused by a mechanical issue or an underlying condition.

Mechanical causes include plantar fasciitis (the most common cause of heel pain), calcaneal spurs (a bony outgrowth of the heel bone), tendinopathy or tendinitis in the Achilles tendon, a fractured heel bone (called the calcaneus), cracked skin on your heels, or verrucas.

Underlying conditions that can cause heel pain include inflammatory conditions affecting the joints (such as rheumatoid arthritis, rheumatism, gout or Sever’s disease), nerve problems (e.g. sciatica or diabetic neuropathy), or vascular conditions (such as a problem with the arteries in your legs and/or feet).

In all cases, heel pain can become very disabling and must be medically treated if it persists for several weeks. If left untreated, your pain could get worse and make it more difficult or even impossible for you to walk.

Treating heel pain

When the pain comes on, you could try to relieve it by applying ice to the painful area, and by avoiding walking or prolonged standing so that you don’t put weight on your heel.

If the pain does not subside and you experience other symptoms (e.g. redness or swelling), we advise you to talk to a doctor. Depending on the cause of the pain, he or she may advise you to rest your foot and prescribe you an anti-inflammatory drug, special insoles, a cast or other orthopaedic support, a course of physiotherapy and rehabilitation, or steroid injections or even surgery (in the case of a fractured heel).

Finally, there are some other, drug-free methods of treating pain, such as the OMRON HeatTens range of pain relievers, which combine soothing heat with Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS).

Preventing heel pain

To prevent any kind of heel pain, first and foremost you should wear good shoes with arch support – especially when exercising. You should also avoid heavy lifting and try not to become overweight.


References:

Ameli.fr (2018). Definition and possible causes of talalgia. Retrieved from www.ameli.fr/assure/sante/themes/talalgie-douleur-au-talon/definition-causes-possibles.

Spée, M. (2017). Heel pain: what is talalgia? Retrieved from www.passeportsante.net/fr/Maux/Symptomes/Fiche.aspx?doc=douleur-talons-symptome.

Nicard, Q. (2017). Heel pain: all about talalgia. Retrieved from www.passeportsante.net/fr/Maux/Symptomes/Fiche.aspx?doc=douleur-talon-talalgie-symptome.

Lemaire, F. (2016). Heel pain: what to do? Retrieved from www.videos.doctissimo.fr/sante/vie-pratique/douleur-talon.html

Horde, P. Heel pain: causes. Retrieved from www.sante-medecine.journaldesfemmes.fr/faq/7654-douleurs-au-talon-causes