They’re usually the last things we take care of, but the demands made on our feet and lower limbs can lead to a range of injuries, including blisters, sprained ankles, torn ligaments, shin splints (leg pain), knee pain, lower back pain and other joint or muscle problems. There’s a lot going on in our feet: bones, ligaments, tendons and many more which means the causes of foot pain can range from an injury and inflammation to more serious structural issues. They’re what get us moving and are the foundation of our health, so look after them using our tips to help avoiding and managing everyday heel and ankle pain.
What are the common causes of heel and ankle pain?
Heel and ankle pain are common, and in most cases are caused by some form of injury or repetitive stress that occurs faster than the body can heal. Here are just a few conditions and symptoms to help you identify what may be triggering your pain:
Plantar fasciitis (also known as ‘jogger’s heel’)
Pain under the heel when taking first steps after waking or after a period of not moving. You may also have difficulty raising your toes off the floor and there are no visible features.
Tenderness and aching at the back of the leg or above the heel. You may experience pain in the calf when standing on tiptoes.
Heel or ankle fracture
Swelling, bruising or tenderness. You may feel pain when you put weight on the injury, press, touch or move it; and the injured part may look deformed.
Bursitis (inflammation of fluid-filled sacs that cushion joints)
A dull, achy pain at the back of the heel. There is no pain when toes are raised.
Peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage)
Numbness and tingling in the foot when moving or resting.
Arthritis (joint pain and inflammation)
Joint pain, tenderness and stiffness that restricts foot movement.
Other common causes include heel bumps, tarsal tunnel syndrome and chronic heel pad inflammation
Are there any genetic or lifestyle factors that play a part in this condition?
Heels and ankles are designed to absorb the impact of your body weight when walking, running or undertaking any form of physical exertion, so anyone can develop heel and ankle pain at any point in their lives, and sometimes pain can clear up on its own. One genetic factor that plays a role is your underlying foot shape such as flat feet and high arches that may lead to poor mechanical function. Lifestyle factors such as ill-fitting footwear, or being overweight or sporty can also increase the risk of heel and ankle pain. Older people and those with other medical conditions are also more susceptible.
What level of pain is normal, and when should I seek medical attention?
You can ease most heel and ankle pain yourself at home, following the tips below. However, if you experience any foot care issues that do not resolve themselves naturally or through routine foot care within three weeks or if you experience severe pain after an injury, your foot is in a funny shape, a snap, grinding or popping noise at the time of injury and difficulty moving your ankle or foot, please contact your local healthcare professional for further medical advice.
Top tips for protecting against and managing heel and ankle pain
You can help ease the pain yourself by trying the following:
- Put an ice pack or bag of frozen peas on the affected area for up to 20 minutes every two to three hours.
- Wear medium heeled shoes (up to 3 cm high), with good heel cushioning and effective arch support.
- Minimise walking or exercising on hard ground.
- Perform gentle stretches.
- Wear heel pads or ankle supports.
- Avoid putting weight on your foot or standing for long periods of time.
- Refrain from going barefoot or wearing ill-fitting and flat shoes.
- Losing weight if you are overweight.