What causes heel pain?

· June 29, 2015

Heel pain is a common and annoying occurrence and something that is certain to happen to you at some point in your life. A stabbing pain that spreads through the foot and prevents us from moving normally… what could be causing it? We’ll go over some of the most common sources of heel pain in this article.

What causes heel pain?

heel pain

Heel pain normally occurs after physical exertion or a minor accident, or it can occur suddenly and without any apparent reason. The heel is the largest of the 26 bones that make up the human foot, which in turn has 33 joints. The foot is a sophisticated and delicate limb with more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments; it’s only normal that its health and integrity is occasionally compromised.

When pain appears, it is usually felt either to the front or just behind the heel. If that pain is severe enough, it can even affect you as you walk. There are a number of different causes, which we will detail below, but above all, it is your doctor who should make the diagnosis.

1. Spurs

heel-pain-chart copy
Spurs are, without a doubt, the most common cause of heel pain. But, what is a spur really? A spur is bone growth at the bottom of the heel that extends beyond the normal heel. Even just a few millimeters of growth is enough to cause tremendous pain. They tend to flare up after excessive strain of the muscles and tendons in the foot, stretching the band of tissue that connects the heel and forefoot and tearing the membrane that covers the heel and bone.  How does that happen? Tripping, wearing ill-fitting shoes, running with incorrect form, and even obesity.

2.  Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fascitis

If the pain extends to the sole, you’re probably suffering from plantar fasciitis. It’s caused when the fibrous connective tissue (the fascia) becomes inflamed. Inflammation can be caused by strain, walking too much, running, or wearing uncomfortable shoes for extended periods of time.

Plantar fasciitis occurs when the soft fibrous tissue of the sole of the foot is overstretched or even torn. Keep in mind, though, that spurs are often linked to this condition.

When suffering from plantar fasciitis, resting the affected foot only provides temporary relief. The pain will return every time the heel is moved. It’s important to see a doctor and follow treatment recommendations and guidelines. As far as home remedies go, don’t forget that ice relieves pain and massaging with rosemary oil helps reduce inflammation. Taping also offers good results, as well as rolling the foot over a frozen water bottle.

3.  Over pronation


Over pronation doesn’t sound like much.  It happens when we walk incorrectly. When walking, the heel hits the ground first and weight is moved across the exterior of the foot to the big toe. When we roll the foot, that is to say stretch the arch, too much, it creates an abnormal amount of strain on the tendons and ligaments connected to the bottom of the heel. This type of injury, if not corrected, can have consequences for the knees and hips as well. If we’re not careful how we walk, an imbalance can affect our entire skeleton. Strange, but true.

4.  Other causes of heel pain

high heels

  • Rheumatoid and other forms of arthritis: a common and painful condition, the joints of the heel often suffer from arthritis.
  • Gout: excess uric acid in the body can cause inflammation of not only the big toe, but the heel as well. The discomfort is severe.
  • Bursitis: sure you’ve heard of bursitis, it’s a lot like a spur, but in this case it’s a nerve that grows abnormally and limits mobility.
  • Haglund deformity: Also very common. The cause? Wearing high heels too often. It’s a growth on the back of the heel bone, right on the Achilles’ tendon. It’s very painful.
  • Inflammation of the Achilles’ tendon: if you live an active life or play sports, you’ve certainly heard of this type of injury. The inflammation is called tendinitis and is caused when this part of the foot is repeatedly strained.
  • Bruising of the bone: basically caused by a blow, like tripping and accidentally hitting something or suddenly getting hit. You should have no trouble figuring out what to do here; the first thing you should do is apply ice to the area.