The back heel is the part of the foot that takes a lot of impact when walking or running. Over time, this repeated impact can cause pain and injury in the back heel area. Fixing issues with the back heel involves identifying the cause, reducing inflammation, stretching, strengthening, and preventing future problems.
Causes of Back Heel Pain
There are several common causes of back heel pain:
- Plantar Fasciitis – This is inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs from the heel to the toes. It causes stabbing pain in the back heel, especially when taking the first steps in the morning.
- Heel Spurs – These are calcium deposits that form on the heel bone. They cause chronic pain under the heel.
- Achilles Tendinitis – Inflammation of the Achilles tendon can radiate pain into the back of the heel.
- Arthritis – Osteoarthritis in the joints of the foot can lead to back heel pain.
- Stress Fractures – Tiny cracks in the heel bone from overuse lead to pain in the back heel area.
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For most back heel pain, inflammation is a major component. Reducing inflammation can provide relief. Methods include:
- Rest – Avoid activities that worsen pain. Take time off exercise routines causing stress to the heel.
- Ice – Apply ice packs to the back heel for 15-20 minutes several times per day to reduce swelling and pain.
- Orthotics – Custom shoe inserts help correct biomechanical imbalances that contribute to heel pain.
- Medication – Over-the-counter NSAIDs (like ibuprofen) temporarily reduce inflammation and pain.
- Night Splints – Wearing a night splint keeps the plantar fascia stretched overnight, preventing morning pain.
Stretching the Heel
Tight calf muscles and Achilles tendons contribute to back heel pain. Regular stretching helps:
- Calf Stretch – Stand facing a wall, hands on the wall at eye level. Step back with one leg, keeping it straight. Push hips forward until a stretch is felt in the calf. Hold 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
- Plantar Fascia Stretch – Sit with one leg crossed over the other. Grab the base of the toes on the crossed leg and gently pull back until a stretch is felt in the arch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other foot.
Weak foot and leg muscles can make you prone to heel problems. Try exercises like:
- Calf raises – Stand with toes on a step or block. Raise up onto toes, hold briefly, then lower. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Towel curls – Sitting, place a towel on the floor under the foot. Curl toes inward to grab the towel and pull it toward you. Release. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Marble pickup – Scatter marbles on the floor. Use toes to grab and lift each marble off the floor.
To help prevent future back heel pain, consider:
- Wearing supportive shoes and orthotics
- Periodic calf stretching
- Replacing running shoes every 300-500 miles
- Gradually increasing activity levels to prevent overuse
- Losing weight to reduce impact on heels
Paying attention to back heel pain and taking proactive steps can help get you back on your feet again. Consult a podiatrist for a full evaluation and treatment plan for lasting relief. With a combination of rest, anti-inflammatory care, exercises, and proper footwear, you can recover from back heel issues.