Plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis are the most common causes of heel pain. Regardless of the cause, heel pain can be a real drag. Not only does heel pain keep you from doing the things you love, but treating it can be a long, confusing process.
What is the Difference Between Plantar Fasciitis and Achilles Tendonitis?
Plantar fasciitis causes pain after long periods of rest, most commonly first thing in the morning, and tends to feel better with activity throughout the day. Achilles tendonitis typically causes pain at the back of the heel, and the pain increases with activity. Treatment methods for both treatments consist of stretching, shoe inserts, and surgery (in some cases).
Treating heel pain is easier when you understand what causes it. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about heel pain, plantar fasciitis, and Achilles tendonitis.
What Conditions Cause Heel Pain?
The two main conditions that cause heel pain, as I said above, are plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis.
The leading cause of heel pain in adults, this condition develops when the fibrous band of tissue running along the bottom of the foot, also known as the plantar fascia, sustains small tears. It is common for plantar fasciitis sufferers to experience severe pain following sleep or extended rest periods. This is due to the tightening of the plantar fascia.
Why does plantar fasciitis feel worse in the morning?
When you are at rest, the plantar fascia tightens. This results in the majority of sufferers experiencing pain first thing in the morning. Throughout the day and as you get up and move around, the fascia stretches back out, and pain decreases.
This phenomenon actually causes many people to wait longer to seek help for their pain because they don't think it's a serious problem.
The Achilles tendon runs along the back of the heel. This tendon can become inflamed due to overuse, which causes pain. It is common to have the most pain during and after physical activity.
This condition, while less known, is actually the leading cause of heel pain in adolescents. This disease is marked by the maturing of the heel bone before the Achilles tendon is done growing. People with Sever's will often experience a painful sensation in the back of the heel, which increases with physical activity.
Other conditions like fractures or bursitis can also cause heel pain, but the three conditions above are the most likely causes of heel pain.
Treatments for Heel Pain
There are a multitude of conservative treatment options available for heel pain.
"Don't I have to get surgery?"
Surgery is not always necessary!
Here are just a few treatment options for plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendonitis:
- Custom orthotics. Having proper support in your shoes is crucial when treating any form of heel pain. Not only should you be wearing supportive shoes, but you should also consider extra support in the form of a shoe insert. Prefabricated or over-the-counter inserts are available, but custom orthotics are of higher quality and may even be covered by your insurance!
- RICE therapy. For acute pain and injuries (even sprained ankles), Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation are the first steps to feeling better. If RICE therapy doesn't take care of the problem after a day or so, the problem may be more severe than you thought.
- Laser pain therapy. This advanced treatment is an effective remedy for both acute and chronic soft-tissue damage and pain. By targeting specific trigger points in the body with laser energy, the laser stimulates and improves circulation to the affected area and delivers a greater supply of oxygen where you need it most.
- Extracorporeal Pulse Activation Technology (EPAT). Another non-invasive treatment option, EPAT uses pressure waves to stimulate the body's natural healing processes. The waves are targeted to the site of your pain and tissue in the area is disrupted, which signals your body to activate cellular repair and increase blood flow.
- Stretching. One of the first things I recommend to anyone struggling with heel pain is stretching. You can learn more about the benefits of regularly stretching and get a few tips for the types of stretches you should be doing in this article. Using a tennis ball or our Theraband Foot Roller can also help to stretch out the bottom of your feet and relieve pain.
At the end of the day, treating heel pain sooner rather than later will always be your best option. The sooner you treat plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, or other heel-pain conditions, the less likely it is that you'll require surgery.