Read below about heel pain, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your heel pain from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Heel Pain Symptoms

Heel pain is an uncomfortable condition that can often interfere with daily activities such as walking and exercise.

Symptoms of heel pain can differ in regard to timing of the day, severity, and persistence.

You may feel symptoms such as:

  • Tenderness at the back of the heel
  • Pain localized to the bottom of the foot that comes and goes
  • Pain in the heel or middle of foot that worsens with prolonged periods of standing
  • Pain in the back of the heel that worsens with activity or exercise

Once you notice heel pain symptoms, make an appointment with your physician promptly in order to get appropriate treatment and care.

Heel Pain Causes Overview

The heel may seem like a simple body part, but it actually has many different components.

  • Calcaneus: The heel bone is the largest bone of the foot and supports a significant amount of the body.
  • Achilles tendon: A tendon is a band of connective tissue that connects muscle to bone. The Achilles tendon is one of the thickest tendons in the body and connects the calf muscle to the heel bone.
  • Plantar fascia: This is also a strong band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot and connects the heel bone to the bones of your toes.
  • Bursa: A bursa is a sac or pouch of fluid that lines bones and joints. It reduces friction and allows the bones to move easily against each other. The heel has a bursa between the Achilles tendon and the calcaneus.
  • Skin: The external layer of the heel is the thick skin surrounding and protecting the heel. Over time it thickens with pressure and use, especially in people who often go barefoot.

Inflammatory causes:

Inflammation is often a principal cause of heel pain symptoms. Inflammation is the result of repetitive stress or use. Since the heel and foot are used on such a daily basis, they are easily susceptible to inflammatory heel pain causes.

  • Connective tissue: Inflammation to the plantar fascia (also known as plantar fasciitis) can result in stabbing pain that is worst in the morning after the first few steps of the day. The heel pain usually improves throughout the day but can be triggered after long periods of inactivity such as sitting or standing. See this image for a good visual representation of the plantar fascia. Inflammation of the Achilles tendon often begins as a dull pain in the back of the heel that is most noticeable after running or other sports activities. This condition is called Achilles tendonitis.
  • Bursa: Inflammation of the bursa (bursitis) often begins in the middle, underside of the foot and worsens if you bend your foot up or down.

Structural causes:

Problems or deformities of the bones of the heel itself can result in chronic heel pain that may affect the way you walk.

  • Spurs: Heel spurs are actually deposits of calcium that can often look like bony growths coming from the heel. They often appear in the area where the plantar fascia attaches to the calcaneus. They develop over time and are caused by muscle and ligament strain due to repetitive stress from walking, running or jumping. See this image for a visual representation.
  • Bumps: Bursitis and chronic inflammation can result in abnormal bony growths at the back of the heel called posterior calcaneal exostosis. It is common in women and often the result of pressure from shoes that do not fit properly.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Heel Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced heel pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Plantar Fasciitis

    Plantar fasciitis is a condition where the thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot becomes inflamed. This is a common problem in runners, people who are overweight, and those who wear shoes with inadequate support. When the thick band of tissue (fascia) becomes inflamed, it can cause heel pain.

    Pain can last weeks to months.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in the sole of the foot, sharp, stabbing foot pain, pain in one foot, severe foot pain, heel pain
    Symptoms that always occur with plantar fasciitis:
    pain in the sole of the foot, sharp, stabbing foot pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy

    Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy is the dysfunction of a tendon (muscles to bones) in the back of the foot, which can lead to having flat feet. It's unclear why exactly it happens, but might be related to poor blood flow and mechanical issues specific to the person.

    Progressive and relapsing, needing several attempts to fix the problem

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    swollen foot, pain in one foot, limping, pain in one ankle, spontaneous ankle pain
    Symptoms that never occur with posterior tibialis tendinopathy:
    recent cutting accident
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  3. 3.Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy

    Nerve damage in the limbs can be caused by diabetes, toxic substances, immune system issues and low vitamin levels. However, in about one of every four cases no cause can be found and then the condition is called 'idiopathic'. Symptoms of nerve damage can be (burning) pain sensations, numbness, tingling and weakness in hands, feet or lower legs.

    This is a chronic condition.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    distal numbness, muscle aches, joint stiffness, numbness on both sides of body, loss of muscle mass
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Ankle Arthritis

    Arthritis of the ankle is a degenerative joint disorder occurring in the ankle. It presents with joint pain and stiffness that is typically worse with activity.

    Arthritis is considered irreversible, but symptoms can be effectively managed with treatment. Newer, more effective treatment options have become available in recent years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    swollen ankle, swollen foot, joint stiffness, pain in one ankle, ankle stiffness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

    Heel Pain Checker

    Take a quiz to find out why you’re having heel pain.

    Heel Pain Quiz
  5. 5.Rheumatoid Arthritis

    Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a form of arthritis that causes pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in your joints. It can affect any joint but is common in the wrist and fingers. RA is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that it is caused by the immune system incorrectly attacking the joints when it shouldn't.

    RA is a chronic disease which requires lifelong control.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, depressed mood, joint pain, muscle aches, daytime sleepiness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Achilles Tendonitis

    The Achilles tendon connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. Together, they help push the heel off the ground and let a person go up on their toes. Achilles tendinitis occurs when that tendon becomes swollen and painful near the bottom of the foot.

    Symptoms should resolve by themselves within weeks to months.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    achilles-area pain, stiff achilles tendon, swollen achilles
    Symptoms that always occur with achilles tendonitis:
    achilles-area pain
    Urgency:
    Phone call or in-person visit
  7. 7.Septic Arthritis

    Septic arthritis is an intensely painful joint infection.

    12-14 days with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, spontaneous shoulder pain, chills, knee pain, joint pain
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  8. 8.Psoriatic Arthritis

    Psoriasis is a skin disease that causes itchy or sore patches of thick, red skin with silvery scales. Some people who have psoriasis also get a form of arthritis (inflammation and swelling of joints) called psoriatic arthritis.

    This type of arthritis can be managed with treatment, and permanent damage can be prevented. However, the underlying cause (psoriasis) is currently incurable.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    shoulder pain, lower back pain, joint pain, upper back pain, hip pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Sever Disease

    Sever's Disease is inflammation of the heel in children due to overuse (typically due to sports). It's caused by the long bones growing faster than the muscles/tendons, creating tension in the Achilles tendon.

    3-6 weeks

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    heel pain, pain in both feet, spontaneous ankle pain, difficulty moving the ankle
    Symptoms that always occur with sever disease:
    heel pain
    Symptoms that never occur with sever disease:
    cut on the foot
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment

Heel Pain Treatments and Relief

Heel pain symptoms can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Wearing comfortable shoes that support and cushion the heel
  • Stretching and warming up before exercise and sports
  • Massaging the soles of the feet or using an ice pack after prolonged sports activity

If you are experiencing heel pain, try the method below in order to relieve symptoms:

  • Rest: Limit weight-bearing on the heel as much as possible.
  • Ice: Put an ice pack on your heel every 15 minutes in order to reduce swelling or reduce heel pain.
  • Compress: Wrap your heel with a wrap or protective brace that supports both the heel and ankle.
  • Elevate: Raise your heel above the level of your heart to reduce swelling and give your foot a break.

However, if you continue to experience heel pain despite home remedies, see your physician for appropriate care.

  • Pain medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, like ibuprofen can help relieve heel pain.
  • Physical Therapy: Your physician may prescribe stretching exercises or a physical therapy/rehabilitation program to help you restore strength and stability to your heel.
  • Surgery: If the treatments and methods above do not work, your physician may suggest surgery to repair the structures contributing to your heel pain symptoms.

FAQs About Heel Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about heel pain.

Why do I have heel pain in the morning?

Heel pain in the morning is a common sign of plantar fasciitis — an inflammation of the thick protective membrane just underneath the skin of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is likely caused by increased pressure placed on the foot by such actions as prolonged standing, jumping, flat feet, and reduced flexing of the ankle upward.

Why do I have heel pain when standing or walking?

You may have heel pain for a variety of reasons, including plantar fasciitis or achilles tendinitis. Differentiating between these two causes can be done based on location and the history of trauma or injury to the affected heel. Heel pain in the back of the heel is usually attributed to achilles tendinitis, while plantar fasciitis is usually along the bottom of the heel.

Do certain shoes cause heel pain more than others?

Heel pain can be caused by high heels, especially when worn by young women whose heel bones are still developing. Heel pain may also be caused by shoes with inadequate padding, causing stress fractures of the heel bone or the small bones of the foot.

What causes heel pain when pressure is applied?

Heel pain when pressure is applied can be a sign of a stress fracture of the heel, which can be caused by repeatedly landing on the heel when jumping or running. The actual sensation of pain is often caused by sensitization of the nerves supplying that stretch of heel, coupled with pressure from either touch or standing.

Is heel pain a symptom of diabetes?

Yes, heel pain can be a symptom of diabetes following the development of a "Charcot joint," which is a joint that is damaged after uncontrolled diabetes damages the nerves of the foot — causing joint collapse. A Charcot joint, however, is caused by a lack of ability to sense pressure when standing and results in an ability to perceive when one is placing too much pressure on a particular part of the foot.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Heel Pain

  • Q.Have you ever been told you have flat feet?
  • Q.Has a bunion formed on your foot?
  • Q.What is your body mass?
  • Q.How would you explain the cause of your foot pain?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our heel pain symptom checker to find out more.

Heel Pain Quiz

Heel Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced heel pain have also experienced:

    • 7% Foot Numbness
    • 3% Lower Back Pain
    • 3% Foot Pain
  • People who have experienced heel pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Over a Month
    • 26% Less Than a Week
    • 22% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced heel pain were most often matched with:

    • 50% Chronic Idiopathic Peripheral Neuropathy
    • 37% Posterior Tibialis Tendinopathy
    • 12% Plantar Fasciitis
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having heel pain

Heel Pain Quiz