Millions of people around the world experience pain every day. While many of these complaints are the product of head, neck, back, or joint pain, the topic of foot and heel pain is often overlooked. In fact, some figures suggest that as much as two thirds of Americans have some form of foot condition. The leading causes of heel pain in humans are plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the ligament running from the heel to the toes, and a heel spur, a bony protrusion from the calcaneus bone that extends into the soft tissue of the plantar fascia ligament. When you consider that our feet are very similar to tires on a car (except for the fact that they don’t get replaced regularly) it is not hard to understand why humans may be so predisposed to foot and heel pain.
The vast majority of the human population walks over three miles per day. Even conservative estimates place the total miles walked in a lifetime by a moderately active person well over 100,000 miles. Of course, athletes and those with other occupations that require standing, walking, or running for extended periods of time travel much farther. When you couple this high demand with the poor diet and sedentary lifestyles becoming the global standard, it’s easy to see why heel pain is one of the most common complaints brought up in doctors’ offices and hospitals around the world.
As stated earlier, the most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. However, pain in the heel can also arise as the result of a heel spur, Achilles tendonitis, or other similar foot conditions. Heel pain, like many other symptoms, can come from a variety of sources and can manifest itself in a range of severities. Heel pain can develop independently or as a corollary to another condition. Furthermore, it can range in severity from mild, temporary discomfort to an incapacitating pain over time. For this reason, it is important to see your doctor at the first sign of persistent aching in the heel area to avoid a progression to more severe and debilitating pain.
Typically heel pain is felt directly below and in front of the heel or along the bottom of the foot. As stated before, this is due to the plantar fascia ligament, which runs from the toes along the bottom of the foot and terminates at the heel. If you are experiencing heel pain behind the heel, it is most likely caused by Achilles tendonitis, an inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which runs from the heel up along the back of the leg. Upon visiting your physician regarding pain in this area, they will typically conduct a visual and tactual examination to check for any tenderness, swelling, or redness. In some cases, they may prescribe an x-ray to either verify or discount the possibility of a heel spur or a foot fracture.
In any event, heel pain is not something to ignore or brush off for any extended period of time. While it may come and go, a case of persistent heel pain should be enough of a concern to warrant a doctor visit. The treatment plans for conditions responsible for causing heel pain are often simple and easy to do from home. However, if left untreated, moderate heel pain can escalate and require intense physical therapy and possibly surgery.