Experiencing heel pain is often an indication that there’s something wrong with your foot. To alleviate your pain, it’s crucial to identify and treat its specific cause instead of following a one-size-fits-all approach.
One of the most common complaints our team of podiatry surgeons at the Los Angeles Institute of Foot and Ankle Surgery in Burbank, Santa Clarita, and Northridge, California, get from patients is heel pain.
A frequently held misconception is that all heel pain stems from a single condition, plantar fasciitis. However, heel pain can have many causes, and plantar fasciitis is just one of the potential culprits.
In this article, we break down how to distinguish plantar fasciitis from other types of heel pain.
What is plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a band of tissue connecting your heel bone to your toes. It’s a common cause of heel pain and can be caused by factors, such as excessive running, being overweight, or wearing shoes with inadequate support.
People with plantar fasciitis often experience sharp, stabbing pain, particularly with the first steps in the morning or after long periods of rest. While this condition is prevalent, it is not the sole cause of heel pain.
Other causes of heel pain
Other medical conditions can cause similar discomfort, often mistaken for plantar fasciitis. Some include the following:
Achilles tendonitis — an overuse injury of your Achilles tendon — often happens in runners who suddenly increase the duration or intensity of their runs. This band of tissue connects calf muscles at the back of the lower leg to your heel bone.
Heel bursitis is an inflammation of the back of the heel in the bursa, a small sac filled with fluid. This condition can cause deep, aching pain and tenderness in the heel and is often caused by landing hard or awkwardly on your heels.
Tiny cracks in a bone also cause heel pain. These are common in many sports but also occur in people with osteoporosis.
These bony growths on the underside of the heel bone are also associated with heel pain. They are often caused by repeated tearing of the membrane that covers your heel bone or strains on your foot muscles and ligaments.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome
This squeezing or compression of the posterior tibial nerve produces symptoms along the nerve path running from the inside of the ankle into the foot, and can cause burning pain in your heel.
Diagnosis and treatment
Proper diagnosis is crucial in treating heel pain. At the LA Institute of Foot and Ankle, our team uses comprehensive diagnostic techniques, including physical examinations, imaging tests, and patient history analysis, to identify the exact cause of your heel pain.
Once the cause is established, we devise a personalized treatment plan. For plantar fasciitis, treatments may involve rest, ice, stretching exercises, and sometimes custom orthotics or physical therapy.
If the heel pain is caused by Achilles tendonitis or heel bursitis, the treatment could include medication, rest, and rehabilitation exercises. Treatment may involve rest and limited weight-bearing activities for conditions like stress fractures. In some severe cases, surgical interventions may be necessary.
Understanding that not all heel pain is due to plantar fasciitis can be the first step in seeking appropriate medical help and achieving pain relief.
So, the next time you experience heel pain, remember it might not necessarily be plantar fasciitis. Reach out to the experts at the LA Institute of Foot and Ankle by scheduling an appointment online or calling 818-848-5588 to get to the bottom of your heel pain.