What's Behind Your Heel Pain?

What's Behind Your Heel Pain?

Last update: 30 July, 2015

We take our feet for granted. They do so much for us. Day in and day out, they support our weight. Is it any wonder that heel pain is the occasional result? When it happens, you know it. It’s usually associated with a shooting pain that moves through the foot and immobilises us. It all happens so quickly that its cause may appear to be a mystery. Not so. There are a few common causes of painful heels. Let’s look at this subject in further detail.

What’s behind heel pain?


Physical exertion or a minor accident are two things that most commonly trigger pain in the heel area of your foot. It’s sometimes difficult to join up the dots, though, so the pain can sometimes seem to come out of the blue. Of the 26 bones that comprise the human foot, the heel is the largest. There are a total of 33 joints in your foot. It’s a staggeringly complicated bit of anatomy. Your foot is at once intricate, delicate and strong. With its infrastructure of 100 muscles, tendons and ligaments, it’s designed to support the full weight of your body. Given that mammoth task, is it any surprise that it will sometimes suffer aches and ailments?

Pain usually presents itself either in front of or behind your heel. Severe pain can even affect you when you walk. Identifying the source or cause of your pain is only part of the puzzle. If trouble persists for longer than a couple of days, please see your GP for a full diagnosis.

1. Heel spurs spell discomfort

Foot diagram


The most common cause of heel pain is a spur. What is a spur, though? It’s a growth of bone that develops on the bottom of the heel and extends beyond the normal range. As you can imagine, it doesn’t take much more than a few millimetres to result in excruciating suffering. Consider how irritating it is when you a foreign object ends up in your shoe. Even a grain of sand can feel like a boulder. At least, you can remove the offender. That’s not the case with a spur, which tends to flare up after excessive strain. If you’ve been exercising aggressively, the band of tissue that connects your heel to the front of your foot stretches beyond its normal range. When this happens, the membrane in that area tears. What compromises the muscles? You may have taken a tumble or your running form is incorrect. Maybe you’re carrying too much excess weight or you’re wearing shoes that don’t fit properly. Think about all of these possibilities and consider which one might be the culprit.

2.  Plantar fasciitis feels positively dreadful

Painful plantar heel

If you’re feeling pain in your sole as well as your heel, it’s probably plantar fasciitis that is to blame. When the fibrous connective tissue (the fascia) becomes inflamed, this is the body’s reaction. This inflammation might be due to anything from uncomfortable shoes to strain or too much walking or running.

Plantar fasciitis happens when the flexible fibrous tissue of your foot’s sole is overstretched or torn. Of course, this is also a symptom of spurs, so bear that in mind when making an initial self-diagnosis.

Resting the affected foot provides temporary relief, but it’s no cure for plantar fasciitis. You’ll feel deep discomfort as soon as you move your heel again. We urge you to see your GP for a proper diagnosis if you suspect this condition. Follow any treatment recommendations. In the meantime, you can get some relief at home with ice packs and rosemary oil massages to reduce inflammation. Wrapping your foot in flexible medical bandages helps alleviate pain, as will rolling your foot over a frozen water bottle.

3.  Get a grip on over pronation 


Over pronation is a fancy term for walking incorrectly. When your stride is compromised, it can have negative ramifications for your entire skeletal system. If, when walking, your heel hits the ground first, your weight moves across the exterior of the foot to the big toe. This causes your foot too roll too much, which stretches the arch and creates an abnormal amount of strain on the tendons and ligaments in your heels. If it’s not corrected, your knees and hips will bear the brunt – which leads to more pain and bigger problems down the line. Sort it out sooner rather than later!

4.  Be aware of things that are a pain in the heel

High heeled shoes


  • Rheumatoid and other forms of arthritis can affect all the joints in your body, so they may well be what’s causing discomfort in the heels of your feet.
  • Gout, caused by excess uric acid in the body, is noted for causing inflammation in the big toe. The heel, however, can also be affected. The pain will be unbearable, so see your GP for treatment!
  • Bursitis bears many of the hallmarks of heel spurs, but it’s a condition of the nerves rather than the bone. Bursitis causes the nerves to grow abnormally and this limits your mobility.
  • Haglund deformity sounds atrocious – and it is. It’s also quite common, but easily addressed. How? Stop wearing high heels so often. They cause a growth on the back of the heel bone, right at the site of the Achilles’ tendon. Ouch.
  • Inflamed Achilles’ tendon is common in athletes and other who are very active. It’s better known as tendinitis and is a reaction to repeated strained.
  • Bruising of the bone happens when the foot sustains a heavy impact. It can be caused by a blow – tripping or accidentally hitting something, for instance – or suddenly being hit with tremendous force. If you suffer anything similar, the first thing you should do is apply ice. This will allay inflammation and help your foot to recover.

Now, do you see how important it is to treat your feet with respect? They are there for you, getting you from A to B and helping you stand tall. Be kind to them.