What Causes Heel Pain?

May 8, 2023

If you wake up with heel pain, you aren’t alone. It’s a common condition that affects around 10% of the entire U.S. population. How can this symptom be so common? Well, it can be a combination of factors, like your activity level and age, or come from chronic use or a sudden injury.

While it may be something we treat often here at Advanced Ankle & Foot, every patient’s heel pain is unique and deserves personalized treatment.

When you feel heel pain, it can be located directly on the base of the heel or just behind it. The pain may be sharp and stabbing, like when you step on something, or ongoing and achy. In any case, we want to help you find long-lasting relief, so you can go back to doing all the things you love without worrying about the pain or discomfort.

Let’s take a look at what causes heel pain and the different treatment options available.

Heel Pain: Uncovering the Most Common Culprits

Heel pain can be an infuriating and debilitating hindrance, but understanding the different types of heel pain can help you identify the underlying issue and seek appropriate treatment.

There are many potential causes for heel pain, and it may be a symptom of another condition rather than an isolated injury. More often than not, heel pain comes from swelling (inflammation), which causes tissues to press against various nerve endings.

Below are several of the most common heel pain conditions and how to treat them.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is distinguished by inflammation of the tissue that joins the heel to the toes. This condition often results from overuse and is prevalent among athletes and people who spend a lot of time on their feet. Many people in their 40s-60s are especially prone to this condition since the elasticity of the plantar fascia naturally wears down as we age. Don’t worry; this doesn’t mean that treatment isn’t available.

In fact, plantar fasciitis is one of the most common heel pain causes, and as a result, there are many clinically supported treatments for it.

Heel pain from plantar fasciitis is directly at the bottom of the heel. It often begins mild and worsens with time. You might also find it the most painful when you get out of bed in the morning.

Here are a few of the most common symptoms of plantar fasciitis:

  • Sharp heel pain when waking up in the morning.
  • Heel pain that feels worse you rest.
  • Aching heel pain that spreads to the arch of your foot.
  • Tightness in the back of the heel to the calf (Achilles tendon).

Heel Spurs

On the other hand, heel spurs are bony growths that develop on the bottom of the heel bone. These painful growths are caused by sharp calcium deposits that can protrude from the heel and cause pain when you walk. Pain is located directly at the bottom of the heel, but tenderness can spread to the surrounding heel area.

These growths can be very painful and often occur due to long-term strain on the muscles and ligaments of the foot. The stabbing pain is often its worst in the mornings, and it can intensify throughout the day, especially when your heel absorbs impact.

Bone spurs and plantar fasciitis can have similar symptoms, so getting a thorough assessment and proper diagnosis is important to find the most effective treatment.

Symptoms of heel spurs include:

  • Sharp pain at the bottom of the heel.
  • A dull ache in the heel throughout the day.
  • A warm sensation around the heel.
  • Heel swelling and tenderness.
  • Visible bone protrusions from the heel.

Achilles Tendonitis

The inflammation of the tendon that links the calf muscles to the heel is a defining characteristic of Achilles tendinitis. This is an overuse injury common among runners, dancers, and athletes. When the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed, you can experience heel pain as a result.

You’ll feel Achilles tendinitis pain in your heel and along the tendon itself, spreading up to the back of the heel and ankle.

The pain can be sharp and intense, often feeling like you’ve been kicked. It will worsen with movement, and you may find that you have a hard time fully extending the affected foot.

Symptoms of Achilles tendonitis can include:

  • Swelling and heel pain.
  • Feeling like you can’t push your weight off the affected leg.
  • Limited range of motion, especially when bending the foot down.
  • Pain that worsens when walking or running.

Stress Fractures

Your feet bear a tremendous amount of pressure every day, and this can lead to tiny fractures that cause pain. A heel bone stress fracture, called a calcaneal stress fracture, commonly occurs among runners, dancers, and athletes to perform repetitive, high-impact movements.

Pain from a heel stress fracture can be intense, and you might have difficulty bearing weight on the affected foot.

Other symptoms of heel stress fractures are:

  • Pain isolated to one part of your heel.
  • Pain that gets worse the longer you stand.
  • A bruised, flushed, or red heel.
  • Swelling.
  • Skin feels tender or hot to the touch.


Bursae are fluid-filled sacs that support and cushion bones and muscles, tendons, and tissues from rubbing against one another. When the bursa between your Achilles tendon and the heel bone (retrocalcaneal bursa) gets inflamed, it can cause heel pain.

Bursitis pain is sharp, and you will mostly feel it on the bottom of your heel and behind it. The condition is common among runners and athletes who perform repetitive motions as well as people with arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

Symptoms of heel bursitis are:

  • Pain in the back of the heel that worsens with movement or when touched.
  • Red, inflamed skin on the heel.
  • Pain that worsens when standing on your toes

Heel Spurs

When plantar fasciitis goes unaddressed for too long, you may develop a heel spur at the place where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. Heel spurs, also known as calcium deposits, are bony protrusions that can trigger heel pain.

This condition can often be treated fairly quickly. If it’s not addressed, though, it can become chronic and may require surgery.

Achilles Tendonitis

Achilles tendonitis is another inflammatory condition that affects your Achilles tendon. Your Achilles tendon is a piece of tissue that connects your heel bone and calf muscles.

If you overuse your Achilles tendon (by doing lots of running, jumping, etc.), you may end up with irritation, inflammation, and heel pain.

This issue is especially common among those who do not play sports or exercise regularly. It also affects those who do not warm up properly or who do not wear the proper footwear for their activity of choice.

heel pain laser therapy

Preventing Future Heel Pain: Put Up a Fight Now to Save Yourself Tomorrow

If you’ve dealt with heel pain in the past but have since recovered, you probably want to do whatever you can to keep it away. Preventing heel pain is important, especially if you’re an individual who spends many hours a day walking or standing. Here are a few tried-and-true ways to prevent heel pain from developing:

Wear the Right Shoes

Wearing shoes that provide proper support and adequate cushioning can help prevent heel pain from developing. High-quality, supportive shoes are especially important for people who stand all day as part of their jobs, as well as active people who regularly play sports or exercise at the gym.

Look for shoes with sufficient arch support and a well-cushioned sole to reduce the impact on your feet.

Avoid going barefoot, too. If you tend to exercise, especially high-intensity exercise, without shoes on, now is the time to change that. You’re not doing your feet and heels any favors.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential to prevent heel pain, as excess weight puts undue stress on your feet. A healthy body weight can help prevent heel pain from developing by reducing the load on your feet.

If you know you need to lose a few pounds, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to come up with a plan that works for you and your lifestyle and sets you up for healthy, sustainable weight loss.

Warm-Up Properly

Always take the time to warm up properly before you exercise or play sports. Warming up adequately before engaging in physical activity is crucial for everyone. It is the most effective approach to prevent injuries and steer clear of overuse injuries that may result in heel pain.

Spend a few minutes getting your blood flowing and doing exercises that prepare your feet and ankles for the activity you’re about to do. It’s worth it to spend a few minutes warming up if it protects you from an injury that could take you out of the game for weeks or months, right?

Taking a Stand Against Heel Pain: Effective Treatment Options for Relief

Depending on the cause of your heel pain, we can recommend a variety of treatments that may improve your symptoms and can get you walking again without discomfort. It’s not uncommon to choose a variety of treatments and see which ones are most effective for you; the exact treatment plan we choose will vary based on your condition and lifestyle.

Here are a few of the best treatments for heel pain:

MLS Laser Therapy

MLS, or multiwave locked system, laser therapy offers 100% natural, painless heel pain treatment at our office. Laser therapy involves the utilization of a low-level laser to alleviate pain and inflammation without the need for invasive procedures. MLS laser therapy is fast, effective, and great for heel pain caused by many types of conditions, including plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and even sports injuries.

Custom Orthotics

Some people are more prone to heel pain because of their foot structure. Custom orthotics are special shoe inserts designed to give your foot the support it needs and relieve pressure from your heel. These inserts are designed to fit your feet perfectly and can help reduce the impact on your heels, preventing pain from developing.

Regenerative Medicine

Regenerative medicine is a cutting-edge treatment that uses your body’s own healing processes to reduce pain and inflammation. These treatments use natural treatments over pharmaceutical drugs and can be effective in reducing heel pain. We offer treatments like Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) therapy and amniotic stem cell therapy to treat heel pain for a variety of conditions.

Step into Comfort: Find Relief for Heel Pain!

Don’t let heel pain hold you back from enjoying your daily activities. At Advanced Ankle and Foot, we’re here to help you find the treatment that works for you. Our team of foot specialists understands how frustrating any foot pain can be, and we’re committed to helping you achieve a pain-free life.

In your appointment, we will evaluate your condition and provide customized treatment options to relieve your symptoms and enhance your quality of life. Don’t suffer in silence any longer, connect with our friendly staff today to schedule your consultation and take the first step towards relief from heel pain.

Contact our Greater Phoenix podiatrist offices today at (480) 962-4281, or fill out our online contact form. No matter how long you’ve struggled with heel pain, help is available. Let us support you on your journey to recovery with personalized care and treatments designed for you.