Step into Comfort: The Ultimate Guide to Heel Pain

Discover effective strategies and remedies for heel pain relief, ensuring comfort every step of the way.

Updated on May 31, 2024

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What is Heel Pain?

Heel pain is a generic term for any pain you feel in, you guessed it, your heel. While it may be easy to determine your pain is in your heel, there can be a wide variety of causes, and treatment differs depending on the source.

If you’re wondering, “why does my heel hurt?” the most common source of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. Your plantar fascia runs beneath the length of your foot, and when it gets inflamed or damaged you may start to feel a sharp, stabbing pain in heel of foot. Plantar fasciitis is very common among runners and those who work on their feet, or anyone who suddenly ramps up their level of physical activity.

Another common cause of pain in back of heel is Achilles tendonitis. Like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis is an overuse injury that flares up commonly in runners or after an increase in workout intensity. Your Achilles tendon connects your calf muscle to your heel, so this kind of pain is commonly felt at the back of your heel or the base of your calf.

Other causes of heel pain can include bursitis, heel pad syndrome, calcaneal stress fractures, nerve damage, or simply trauma or bruising from an accident or misstep.

  • Discover the causes of heel pain, its symptoms, and diagnosis.
Causes & Risk Factors
  • Plantar Fasciitis
    The most common cause of heel pain, plantar fasciitis usually stems from overdoing exercise or other activities.A stabbing heel pain when walking is one symptom of plantar fasciitis, but you may feel pain in the ball of your foot or other places as well. The bottom-of-heel pain from plantar fasciitis is usually the most intense when you first stand up after being inactive, such as first thing in the morning, standing up after sitting for hours, or at the end of a long drive.
    Plantar Fasciitis
  • Heel Spurs
    A heel spur is an overgrowth bone that protrudes from your heel bone. These growths don’t always cause pain, and treatments for plantar fasciitis often resolve heel pain without the need to remove a spur surgically. If the spur can be felt through the skin or is sensitive to contact, it’s more likely to be the cause of pain and require surgical treatment.
    Heel Spurs
  • Achilles Tendonitis
    Achilles tendonitis is another type of overuse injury common among runners, or adults who are sedentary during the week but active on weekends. Your Achilles tendon attaches on your lower calf and connects to your heel, and when it gets irritated or inflamed you will feel back of heel pain.
    Achilles Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
    Many of your joints have small sacks of fluid around them called bursa to support movement and reduce friction. When these get inflamed they can cause pain, and your heels are a common site for this issue. Like many types of heel pain, bursitis is generally an overuse injury.
    Bursitis
  • Trauma & Injury
    Your heels make regular contact with the ground as you stand, walk, run and jump. From sprains and strains to broken bones, sometimes heel pain is as simple as a one-time injury. A fracture may feel painful enough that you notice it right away, but sometimes a mild sprain or strain starts small and gets worse when not treated.
    Trauma & Injury
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Treatment

Heel pain, a common complaint among many individuals, can arise from various causes, including overuse, injuries, or underlying medical conditions. Addressing this discomfort often requires a multifaceted approach. Here’s a comprehensive guide to the various treatment options available for heel pain relief.

  • Rest and Ice
    One of the initial and most straightforward remedies for heel pain is to give the affected foot ample rest. By minimizing activities that intensify the pain, individuals can experience significant relief. Concurrently, the application of ice to the sore region can be beneficial. Icing, especially after strenuous activities, can diminish inflammation and provide immediate solace, with sessions typically lasting 15–20 minutes, 2–3x per day.
    Rest and Ice
  • Pain Relievers
    Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, can be effective in managing heel pain. These medications not only alleviate pain but also combat inflammation. However, it’s crucial to adhere to the recommended dosages and seek medical advice if the pain persists or if there are concerns about prolonged use.
    Pain Relievers
  • Orthotics
    For many, the introduction of custom orthotics or over-the-counter arch supports into their footwear can make a world of difference. These devices offer enhanced cushioning and support, effectively redistributing pressure points and lessening the strain on the heel. Some individuals might also benefit from heel cups or cushions, which provide additional elevation and cushioning.
    Orthotics
  • Night Splints
    Night splints serve a unique purpose in the treatment arsenal. Designed to maintain the foot in a specific position throughout the night, they facilitate the gentle stretching of the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon, often resulting in reduced morning discomfort.
    Night Splints
  • Lifestyle Changes
    Beyond specific treatments, making certain lifestyle adjustments can also be beneficial. Maintaining an optimal weight can alleviate undue strain on the feet. Similarly, making informed footwear choices and avoiding extended periods of standing or walking on hard surfaces can contribute to overall foot health and comfort.
    Lifestyle Changes
  • Physical Therapy
    Engaging in physical therapy can be a pivotal step in addressing heel pain. Trained therapists can introduce patients to a regimen of exercises and stretches specifically designed to fortify the foot and calf muscles while enhancing flexibility. Some therapy sessions might also incorporate techniques like ultrasound or deep tissue massage to further treat the discomfort.
    Physical Therapy
  • Surgery
    In instances where heel pain remains unresponsive to conservative treatments, surgical intervention might be considered. Surgical procedures can vary, from releasing the plantar fascia to excising bone spurs. It’s worth noting that surgery is typically a last-resort option and is usually followed by a recovery phase and subsequent physical therapy.
    Surgery

Exercises and Stretches

Heel pain, often a result of strain, overuse, or specific medical conditions, can be effectively managed through targeted exercises and stretches. These routines not only alleviate discomfort but also work toward strengthening the foot and calf muscles while enhancing flexibility. Here’s a detailed exploration of exercises and stretches tailored to mitigate heel pain.

  • Towel Stretch
    Begin by sitting with your legs extended straight in front of you. Drape a rolled towel around the ball of one foot, holding both ends with your hands. With a straight knee, gently pull the towel towards you. This action should create a stretch in the arch of your foot and the back of your calf, helping to relieve tension.
    Towel Stretch
  • Calf Raises
    Position yourself with feet hip-width apart. Gradually elevate your heels off the ground, balancing on your tiptoes. After a brief pause, lower your heels back to the floor. Repeating this motion can strengthen the calf muscles and provide relief to the heel.
    Calf Raises
  • Toe Tapping
    While seated, lift the toes of one foot and tap them rhythmically on the floor. This simple exercise can stimulate blood flow and reduce stiffness. Ensure you repeat the motion with the other foot.
    Toe Tapping
  • Marble Pickup
    For this exercise, sit down and scatter a few marbles on the ground before you. Using only the toes of one foot, attempt to pick up the marbles and place them into a container. This exercise not only challenges the muscles of the foot but also aids in improving dexterity. Remember to switch feet and repeat.
    Marble Pickup
  • Achilles Tendon Stretch
    Position yourself facing a wall, hands pressed against it. Step one foot back, ensuring it remains flat on the ground. As you bend the front knee, the back leg should remain straight, creating a stretch in its calf. This stretch can be particularly beneficial for those with tight Achilles tendons. Alternate between legs for a balanced stretch.
    Achilles Tendon Stretch
  • Plantar Fascia Massage
    Using a tennis ball or a frozen water bottle, sit and place the object under one foot. Roll your foot over it, applying a gentle pressure. This action can help massage the plantar fascia, offering relief from tension and pain.
    Plantar Fascia Massage
  • Toe Stretch
    While seated, cross your affected foot over the opposite knee. Gently pull your big toe back towards the ankle using your hand. Holding this position for a few seconds can stretch the bottom of your foot, alleviating tightness.
    Toe Stretch
  • Heel Cord Stretch
    With your hands against a wall, position one foot behind the other and bend both knees slightly. As you lean into the wall, ensure both heels remain grounded. This stretch targets the heel cord, providing relief from tension.
    Heel Cord Stretch
  • Ankle Circles
    In a comfortable seated or lying position, elevate one foot and draw circles with your ankle. Ensure you move in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. This exercise promotes mobility and can alleviate ankle stiffness.
    Ankle Circles

Surgical or Other Procedures

Heel pain can be a debilitating condition, and while many individuals find relief through conservative treatments, there are cases where these methods may not suffice. For persistent or severe heel pain, surgical or other medical procedures might be the recommended course of action. These interventions aim to address the root cause of the pain and provide long-term relief. Here’s a detailed look into some of these procedures.

  • Physical Therapy
    Though not a surgical intervention, physical therapy plays a pivotal role in many treatment plans for heel pain. By focusing on strengthening and stretching exercises, physical therapy can improve foot mechanics, alleviate discomfort, and prevent future occurrences.
    Physical Therapy
  • Plantar Fascia Release
    This surgical procedure involves partially detaching the plantar fascia from the heel bone. By doing so, it can relieve tension and reduce inflammation in the affected area, offering relief to those suffering from chronic heel pain.
    Plantar Fascia Release
  • Heel Spur Removal
    Heel spurs, which are bony growths on the heel bone, can sometimes contribute to heel pain. In such cases, a surgical removal of these spurs might be recommended. This procedure is often done in conjunction with the plantar fascia release to ensure comprehensive treatment.
    Heel Spur Removal
  • Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT)
    A non-invasive procedure, ESWT uses sound waves to stimulate healing within the painful area. It’s often recommended for individuals with chronic plantar fasciitis that hasn’t responded to more traditional treatments.
    Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy (ESWT)
  • Tenex Procedure
    PRP therapy involves drawing a small amount of the patient’s blood, processing it to concentrate the platelets, and then injecting it back into the painful area. The growth factors present in PRP can promote healing and reduce inflammation, making it a potential treatment option for persistent heel pain.
    Tenex Procedure
  • Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injection
    Engaging in physical therapy can be a pivotal step in addressing heel pain. Trained therapists can introduce patients to a regimen of exercises and stretches specifically designed to fortify the foot and calf muscles while enhancing flexibility. Some therapy sessions might also incorporate techniques like ultrasound or deep tissue massage to further treat the discomfort.
    Platelet-Rich Plasma (PRP) Injection
  • Cryosurgery (Cryotherapy)
    Cryosurgery utilizes cold temperatures to numb irritated nerves causing pain. As a minimally invasive procedure, it offers an alternative for those seeking relief from chronic heel pain without undergoing extensive surgery.
    Cryosurgery (Cryotherapy)
  • Radiofrequency Ablation
    This procedure uses radio waves to produce heat directed at specific nerve tissue, effectively reducing pain signals from that area. It’s a potential option for patients whose heel pain is due to nerve involvement.
    Radiofrequency Ablation
  • Endoscopic Plantar Fasciotomy
    A minimally invasive surgical approach, the endoscopic plantar fasciotomy involves making small incisions to visualize and treat the plantar fascia. This method avoids the need for a large open incision, reducing recovery time.
    Endoscopic Plantar Fasciotomy
  • Gastrocnemius Recession
    This surgical procedure aims to lengthen the calf muscles, which can, in turn, reduce stress on the plantar fascia. It’s especially beneficial for patients who have difficulty flexing their ankle, as this limitation can exacerbate heel pain.
    Gastrocnemius Recession

Prevention

Heel pain is a prevalent issue that many individuals face, and while treatments are available, prevention remains the best strategy. Adopting specific habits and being mindful of our daily routines can significantly mitigate the risk of developing heel pain. Here’s a comprehensive guide on the preventive measures one should consider.

  • Proper Footwear
    One of the primary defenses against heel pain is choosing the right footwear. Shoes with adequate arch support and cushioning are essential. It’s also advisable to avoid wearing high heels for extended periods, as they can strain the heel. Moreover, it’s crucial to replace shoes when they wear out and no longer offer the necessary support.
    Proper Footwear
  • Gradual Increase in Activity
    For those embarking on a new exercise regimen, it’s essential to increase the intensity and duration of the activity gradually. This approach ensures that the feet and heels aren’t subjected to sudden strains, reducing the risk of pain.
    Gradual Increase in Activity
  • Regular Stretching
    Incorporating calf and foot stretches into one’s daily routine can be immensely beneficial. Not only do these stretches prepare the feet for the day ahead, but when done before and after exercise, they can also help reduce tension in the plantar fascia, a common source of heel pain.
    Regular Stretching
  • Maintain a Healthy Weight
    Carrying excess weight can exert additional pressure on the heels. Therefore, maintaining a balanced diet and engaging in regular exercise to manage one’s weight can play a pivotal role in preventing heel pain.
    Maintain a Healthy Weight
  • Avoid Prolonged Standing
    For individuals whose jobs require them to stand for extended periods, it’s essential to take breaks. Sitting down and resting the feet intermittently can prevent undue strain. Additionally, using anti-fatigue mats can offer relief when standing in one spot for long durations.
    Avoid Prolonged Standing
  • Warm-Up Before Exercise
    Warming up before any physical activity is crucial. It prepares the muscles and tendons for the exertion ahead, reducing the risk of injuries and strains that could lead to heel pain.
    Warm-Up Before Exercise
  • Stay Hydrated
    Hydration is key to overall health, including that of the feet. Drinking ample water ensures that tissues and muscles remain hydrated, reducing the risk of cramps and strains.
    Stay Hydrated
  • Regular Foot Exams
    Periodic self-examinations of the feet can help in identifying signs of wear, strain, or abnormalities. If any persistent issues are noticed, or if one feels they’re at a higher risk of heel pain, it’s always wise to consult a podiatrist.
    Regular Foot Exams

FAQs

  • What causes heel pain?

    Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain in the US, which usually stems from overdoing exercise or other activities. Other sources of heel pain include heel spurs, Achilles tendonitis, bursitis, or trauma & injury.

  • How do I treat heel pain?

    Heel pain, a common complaint among many individuals, can arise from various causes, including overuse, injuries, or underlying medical conditions. Addressing this discomfort often requires a multifaceted approach, including rest and ice, pain relievers, orthotics, night splints, lifestyle changes, physical therapy, or in rare cases surgery.

  • Are there any exercises or stretches that can complement wearing proper shoes for heel pain relief?

    Yes, there are exercises and stretches that can complement wearing proper shoes for heel pain relief. Some effective ones include calf stretches, plantar fascia stretches, toe stretches, and Achilles tendon stretches. Strengthening exercises for the feet and lower legs, such as toe curls and calf raises, can also help improve foot stability and alleviate heel pain.

  • Can heel pain be treated without surgery?

    Yes, in many cases heel pain can be treated without surgery. There are a wide variety of conservative, non-invasive treatments to be tried before considering surgical intervention. These methods include stretches and exercises, physical therapy, massage, orthotics, supportive footwear, night splints, rest and ice.

  • Can heel pain be a sign of a more serious condition?

    Yes, heel pain can sometimes be a sign of a more serious condition. Is heel pain a sign of cancer? While most causes of heel pain are not related to cancer, in rare cases heel pain can indicate the presence of a tumor. While common causes of heel pain such as plantar fasciitis or heel spurs are typically responsible for heel pain, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional if the pain persists or worsens. They can evaluate the condition and determine if further examination or treatment is necessary to rule out underlying issues like stress fractures, nerve problems, or cancer.

In our study on foot pain across America, 35% of 2,500 survey respondents with foot pain reported experiencing pain under the heel.

Explore the latest foot pain trends, common causes of pain, treatment and prevention plans for maintained foot health in our 2024 Foot Pain Trends Report!

Features to Look for in Shoes for Heel Pain

When dealing with heel pain, the specific attributes of your footwear can play a pivotal role in offering relief and preventing further discomfort. Shoes designed with particular features can significantly reduce stress on the heel, providing both immediate solace and long-term benefits. Let’s delve deeper into the essential features to consider when selecting shoes to combat heel pain.

  • Supportive Arch Design
    A shoe with a supportive arch design boasts a contoured footbed that naturally molds to the unique shape of your foot. This design promotes even weight distribution across the foot, which is crucial in reducing the strain on the plantar fascia, a common source of heel pain.
    Supportive Arch Design
  • Cushioned Heel
    The heel is where the brunt of the impact occurs with every step. Therefore, shoes with thick, padded heel cushioning are essential. Materials such as memory foam or gel in the heel region can provide added comfort, ensuring that the shock from each step is absorbed and distributed, minimizing direct impact on the heel.
    Cushioned Heel
  • Deep Heel Cup
    A deep heel cup in shoes ensures that the heel remains stable and centered. This feature is particularly beneficial in reducing the risk of overpronation or supination, which are common foot movements that can exacerbate heel pain.
    Deep Heel Cup
  • Firm Midsole
    The midsole’s firmness provides additional support, especially to the arch. A firm midsole ensures that the foot doesn’t roll inward or outward excessively, maintaining a neutral foot position and reducing strain.
    Firm Midsole
  • Shock Absorption
    Effective shock absorption is vital in reducing the impact on the heel. Materials like EVA (ethylene-vinyl acetate) are known for their shock-absorbing properties. Shoes with such materials help in dispersing the impact of each step, ensuring that the heel is shielded from excessive stress.
    Shock Absorption

Caring for Your Shoes for Heel Pain

Maintaining and cleaning shoes designed for heel pain is essential not only for hygiene but also to ensure their longevity and continued effectiveness. Proper care can prevent the breakdown of supportive structures within the shoe, ensuring they remain beneficial in alleviating discomfort. Here’s a guide on how to clean and care for shoes that are designed to combat heel pain.

  • Regular Dusting. Before any deep cleaning, always dust off your shoes using a soft brush. This helps in removing surface dirt and prepares the shoe for a more thorough cleaning.
  • Drying Shoes. Never expose your shoes to direct heat sources like heaters or direct sunlight, as this can warp their shape and compromise their supportive features. Instead, let them air dry in a well-ventilated area. To speed up the drying process and maintain the shoe’s shape, you can stuff them with newspaper or paper towels.
  • Storing Properly. When not in use, store your shoes in a cool, dry place. Avoid piling them under heavy objects or other shoes, as this can distort their shape. If possible, use a shoe tree to help maintain their form.
  • Regular Inspection. Frequently inspect your shoes for signs of wear and tear. If the supportive structures start to break down or if the sole wears out unevenly, it might be time to consider replacing them to ensure continued support and relief from heel pain.

Choosing Shoes for Heel Pain

When one experiences heel pain, the process of selecting shoes goes beyond aesthetics. The right pair can be a cornerstone in managing discomfort and ensuring day-to-day activities are less painful. Here’s a detailed guide on what to consider when choosing shoes tailored to alleviate heel pain.

  • Prioritize Comfort
    Shoes that offer robust arch support should be at the top of your list. Such support ensures that weight is distributed evenly across the foot, minimizing the strain on the heel. Additionally, shoes with a contoured footbed can be particularly beneficial as they naturally mold to the unique shape of your foot, offering an added layer of support.
    Prioritize Comfort
  • Cushioning is Key
    The importance of cushioning, especially in the heel area, cannot be overstated. Shoes with adequate cushioning can absorb the shock of each step, reducing the direct impact on the heel. Materials like memory foam, gel, or EVA are known for their cushioning properties and can significantly enhance comfort and protection.
    Cushioning is Key
  • Check the Heel Counter
    The back part of the shoe, known as the heel counter, should be given special attention. It should be sturdy and not easily collapsible. A robust heel counter ensures that the heel is held securely, providing stability and minimizing excessive movement that could exacerbate pain.
    Check the Heel Counter
  • Flexibility at the Forefoot
    While support is crucial, it’s equally important for the shoe to have some flexibility, especially at the forefoot. This flexibility allows the foot to move naturally during walking or running, preventing undue strain. When testing a shoe, ensure it bends easily at the ball of the foot but remains rigid in the middle.
    Flexibility at the Forefoot
  • Consider Shoe Width
    A shoe that’s too narrow can exacerbate heel pain by squeezing the foot. It’s essential to ensure that the shoe offers enough width, especially in the toe box area. This space allows the toes to spread and move naturally, preventing constriction and additional pressure points.
    Consider Shoe Width
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Heel the Difference™ of KURUSOLE

Every step you take starts with your heels—and it can get painful, fast. In fact, 77% of Americans experience foot pain, with heel pain at the top of the list.*

That’s why at KURU, we believe health starts with heel. Our patented KURUSOLE technology dynamically flexes with each step to hug and protect your heels. This heels-first focus paves the way for holistic foot pain relief and whole-body wellness, so you can live a life you love.

Every pair comes built with three layers of pain-fighting technology:

  • 1

    KURUSOLE

  • 2

    KURUCLOUD

  • 3

    ULTIMATE INSOLE

  • How KURU brings relief

    KURUSOLE

    Welcome to the world’s first dynamic heel-hugging technology. Our patented KURUSOLE dynamically flexes with each step to hug and protect your heels to help alleviate foot pain conditions such as plantar fasciitis.

Our Secret

Animated GIF showing KURUSOLE tech in KURU shoes vs. typical flat interiors for plantar fasciitis pain.
Why Others Love KURU

Why Others Love KURU

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Improved heel pain. I bought these because I started having pain in one of my heels. As a nurse, I am on my feet most of the day and it had gotten to the point that I would almost be in tears by the end of my shift. I have worn these the last couple of weeks and there has been a huge improvement in the pain after being on my feet all day.

Kathy S.

Fantastic! I bought these because I have plantar fasciitis in both feet and one foot has a heel spur. These sneakers are excellent, I can now walk comfortable again and no pain. I just wish I had known of this company before. I will be buying all my sneakers from them. Great fit from the first day and I didn’t even have to wear them in. They were also a true fit on the size.”

Patty1215

Amazing comfort. I have severe foot and heel pain and these shoes are the most comfortable that I own. I can now walk longer than I have been able to in close to a year.”

CAPTKIRK

Best shoe for heel pain. I am a nurse. Developed severe heel pain from bone spur and plantar fasciitis. Used every insole available. Bought shoes that didn’t help. Was VERY Leary to try these, but thank God I did!!! After a few days, NO PAIN! Highly recommend. I am ordering another pair.”

Happy in Illinois

Best for heel pain! OK, I wanted to wear these shoes for a bit so I could offer an honest review. At first, I felt the heel base to be a bit narrow, but I quickly got used to it and absolutely LOVE this shoe! No more pain ! Thank you!! Not only practical, but also has a lovely style. Perfect fit. Easy on & off. What’s not to love?

Kristina

Pain relief accomplished. I have been wearing a shoe recommended for plantar fasciitis and heel spurs with a little relief but by the end of the day my feet hurt. I tried these Kuru Atoms and OMG what a huge relief. I don’t want to take them off. They do not compare and I wear them all day. I have purchased 2 more pair and all I can say is THANK YOU!!!!”

MYRT

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