Heel pain when walking isn’t that uncommon, but it can be tricky to manage. Additionally, if you have heel pain when walking, it’s possible that you have a medical condition that needs treatment. Learn more about some of the reasons behind your heel pain as well as what you can do to alleviate the discomfort now.
What Are the Symptoms of Heel Pain to Look Out For?
To some people, walking might seem like a mindless activity. But when it causes pain, you then become aware of how important it is to feel comfortable when putting weight through your feet. Heel pain when walking can be felt in the bottom of the foot, on the sides of the heel, and the pain might even radiate through the back of the ankle or down through the toes. The pain can also spread to other areas of the body, such as the lower back.
Depending on the reasons behind the heel pain, it might feel sharp and sudden when you take a step. Alternatively, it could feel dull and achy at all times. Some people report that their heel pain is worse when they have to do more walking or standing than usual. This can indicate an underlying condition or cause that contributes to the pain as opposed to typical wear and tear.
Heel pain that is acute typically comes from an injury or strain. Acute pain is usually temporary or short-term, whereas chronic heel pain is long-lasting—usually continuing for at least 6 months without much or any improvement. No matter what type of heel pain you’re feeling, it’s important to get it addressed as soon as possible so that you can stand, walk, and go through your day without discomfort.
That said, what can cause heel pain when walking? And what can be done about it? Let’s look at some of the most common reasons next.
What Causes Heel Pain When Walking?
For many people, heel pain when walking indicates a condition called plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the band of tissue that runs from the heel to the bottom or ball of the foot becomes inflamed. When this happens, this tissue, also known as the plantar fascia, is strained and more prone to further injuries or medical complications, such as the development of a bone spur.
A bone spur is an extra deposit of calcium that protrudes from the normal places in the body you would expect to see bone. Bone spurs can cause pain, discomfort, and put pressure on their surrounding areas. When combined with the inflammation from plantar fasciitis, the pain can become debilitatingly painful and make it difficult to do usual, every-day activities, including walking.
Plantar fasciitis can happen to anybody, but it is often seen in people who run, jump, or do other movements that put a lot of stress on this area of the body. As expected, the more stress that is put through the bottom of the feet, the more likely it is to develop plantar fasciitis or other underlying conditions that can cause heel pain when walking.
Of course, plantar fasciitis is not the only reason why you could be experiencing heel pain. Other common reasons behind heel pain when walking include:
- Achilles tendinitis—Tendonitis is the swelling of a tendon. Achilles tendinitis refers to the inflammation of the back of the heel, which is where the Achilles tendon is located. This is a frequently seen issue in runners, but can also happen in people who walk a lot or who simply have tight calf muscles. The symptoms associated with achilles tendinitis are pain in the back of the heel, pain that gets worse when walking, and tightness throughout the calf muscle and heel.
- Rheumatoid arthritis—Just as plantar fasciitis causes inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to pain that’s a direct result of inflammation. In this case, though, the inflammation is not just in one part of the body, like the plantar fascia. Rather, rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation throughout all of the joints in the body. So, the pain that you are feeling in your heel could be a result of inflammation in the nearby joints, such as the big toe (which occurs often with gout) or the ankle.
- Shoe wear—Not having the proper footwear is one of the driving forces behind heel pain. Wearing high heels can actually cause a substantial amount of damage to the bottom of the feet. This is because high heels put the feet in an unnatural position that takes the weight off of the heel and puts it onto the front of the foot. Though you might think that this would cause less problems with the heel, it can actually cause the achilles tendon to shorten over time, which increases the chances for developing tendinitis or for injuring this part of the body. Experts recommend that you wear shoes that have good arch support and that can absorb some of the shock that goes through your foot each time your heel meets the ground.
- Flat feet—Unfortunately, some people are simply more prone to getting heel pain. People with flat feet, for example, are at a greater risk of developing one of the conditions above or having pain over time. This is because when the foot doesn’t have a natural arch, it can cause strain in the Achilles tendon, calf muscle, or bottom of the foot. Additionally, having flat feet can cause an unbalanced gait. This in turn leads to pain.
What Can Help Heel Pain?
Finding effective treatment for your heel pain usually depends on the reasons that are causing this discomfort. For example, if you have tight tendons, your doctor may recommend stretching exercises to lengthen the Achilles tendon and loosen the calf muscles. Often, this provides some relief in the moment while also benefiting the health of your feet in the long-run. Many times, more drastic interventions, such as surgery, is not needed.
Furthermore, if you have a condition like plantar fasciitis or rheumatoid arthritis that’s leading to heel pain when walking, you might need to use medications to reduce the swelling. These are known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). These anti-inflammatory medications can help decrease the amount of pain you feel over time until you can find a more permanent solution.
For more immediate relief, consider using an ice pack applied directly onto the area that’s causing the most discomfort. Additionally, know that there will be times where you will need to sit back, put your feet up, and take some of that pressure away from your heels.
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