Why Do My Heels Hurt When I Walk? The Top 5 Reasons Explained

woman with ankle pain when walking
woman with ankle pain when walking - why do my heels hurt when I walk?

Why do my heels hurt when you walk?

If that sounds like you, you’re definitely not alone. I run a physical therapy clinic where I’ve heard this question more times than I can count. Turns out, a lot of us are dealing with heel pain and it’s no small deal. It can turn picking up your morning coffee or just walking around the block into a real pain—literally.

In today’s blog, we’re going to break down the top 5 reasons your heels might be giving you grief. It’s all about understanding what’s going on so we can tackle it head-on. Whether you’re hitting the gym hard, chasing after grandchildren, or just enjoying a walk, I’ve got some insights that could make those steps a lot less painful.

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The Top 5 Common Causes of Heel Pain

Reason 1: Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis heel pain is a common condition that causes heel pain. It involves inflammation of the plantar fascia, the thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. Symptoms include sharp, stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot near the heel, which is often most severe with the first steps after waking up or after long periods of rest.

The pain is typically worse in the morning because the plantar fascia tightens up during sleep. When you take your first steps, the fascia is suddenly stretched, causing pain. The same phenomenon can happen after being seated for a long time or after intense activity.

Reason 2: Achilles Tendinitis

Achilles tendonitis is inflammation of the Achilles tendon, the large tendon that connects the calf muscles to the heel bone. This condition is often related to overuse and is particularly common in runners.

Overuse or strain on the Achilles tendon can cause pain at the back of the heel. The pain can be exacerbated by activities that put extra stress on the tendon, such as running or jumping.

Reason 3: Heel Spurs

Heel spurs are bony growths on the underside of the heel bone. They can form when the plantar fascia pulls too tightly on the heel, and the body responds by depositing calcium, which leads to the formation of spurs. Though they are often painless, heel spurs can cause heel pain when walking or standing.

Symptoms might not always be present, but they can include intermittent or chronic pain. Treatment approaches focus on relieving the associated plantar fasciitis through physical therapy techniques, stretching exercises, orthotic devices, and, in some cases, surgical intervention.

Reason 4: Bursitis

Bursitis in the heel is the inflammation of the bursa, a small fluid-filled sac located at the back of the heel. It acts as a cushion between tendons and bones to reduce friction.

Pain is caused by the inflammation of the bursa, which can result from overuse, injury, or pressure from footwear. Symptoms include pain at the back of the heel, especially with activity.

Reason 5: Stress Fractures

Stress fractures in the heel bone (calcaneus) occur due to overuse or repetitive force, often from high-impact sports. They are tiny cracks in the bone that cause significant pain and discomfort.

Symptoms include pain, swelling, and tenderness in the heel. It’s crucial to get an early diagnosis to prevent further damage and begin appropriate treatment.

Prevention Tips: Keeping Heel Pain at Bay

1. Choose Your Shoes Wisely
Not all shoes are created equal, especially when it comes to foot health. Go for shoes that offer good support and fit your feet well. This means no squeezing into those stylish but oh-so-tight shoes or spending hours in flimsy flip-flops. Your heels will thank you!

2. Keep it Light
Your feet carry the weight of your entire body, so every extra pound can add strain to those heels. Keeping a healthy weight isn’t just good for your overall health but can also ease the pressure on your feet.

3. Get Moving, But Wisely
Speaking of staying active, regular exercise is key to keeping your feet happy. But remember, balance is important. Mix up your routine with low-impact activities like swimming, cycling, or yoga to give your heels a break from the daily pounding. And always warm up before you dive into any activity to keep those muscles and tendons flexible.

4. Stretch it Out
Incorporate foot and ankle stretches into your daily routine. A few minutes of stretching can improve flexibility, reduce tightness, and help prevent those nagging heel pains. Think of it as a mini-spa session for your feet – they deserve a little TLC for carrying you around all day.

5. Rest and Recover
If you’re starting to feel heel pain, listen to your body and take a break. Rest is just as important as activity when it comes to preventing overuse injuries. Give your heels time to heal before you jump back into your regular activities, and consider icing or elevating your feet to reduce any swelling.

By following these simple tips, you can take steps (pun intended) to prevent heel pain and keep your feet feeling great. Remember, your feet are the foundation of all your movements, so taking care of them is essential for staying active and pain-free.

How Physical Therapy Can Help Ease Heel Pain

Physical therapy can be a game-changer for those struggling with heel pain, offering a multifaceted approach tailored to individual needs.

By assessing your unique situation, physical therapists create a personalized plan that might include targeted stretches and strengthening exercises to address muscle imbalances or tightness. They also employ hands-on techniques like massage and mobilization to relieve pain and improve function directly. With access to specialized equipment, such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation, physical therapists can further alleviate discomfort and promote healing.

But their role doesn’t stop at treatment; they’re also dedicated to prevention, educating patients on how to avoid future issues through proper footwear, lifestyle adjustments, and incorporating foot-healthy practices into daily routines.

To find out more about how physical therapy can help you click here to fill out this form and tell us more about what’s going on, and our team will be in touch. You can also give us a call here: (360) 474-3274

Or, if you’re not quite ready to talk to us yet, why not download our FREE foot and ankle pain guide? Inside you’ll discover 7 different ways to ease foot and ankle pain, even if you’ve suffered for months and years.

Click HERE to download your free copy.

Andrew Vertson