Person holding the back of their heel in SeattleExercise is a fantastic outlet for reducing anxiety and improving our overall health. It can help reduce blood pressure, kick our metabolism into high gear, and help us sleep better. If you're like many people in Seattle, you're probably more active in the summer once the weather warms up and the rain abates--walking, running, hiking, playing soccer, and more recently pickleball.

Unfortunately a rapid increase in our mileage when walking or running can also lead to foot and ankle problems such as back of heel pain. If you've increased your exercise distance by more than 10-20% a week you're doing too much. Reducing your level of exercise may be all you need to relieve your pain.

However, an increase in exercise is only one factor in causing back of heel pain.

Low or Flat Arches

Your foot type can play a major role in developing foot pain. People who have flat feet or low arches are at greater risk for developing Achilles tendonitis one of several conditions that results in back of heel pain. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the body. While it's able to withstand forces of 1,000 pounds or more, it can become inflamed.

Why?

People who have flat or low arches tend to roll their feet inwards or over pronate, increasing the pull on this tendon. People with this foot type also tend to develop a related condition--plantar fasciitis. Instead of feeling pain in the back of the heel, patients with this condition experience pain in the bottom of the heel.

Learn more about low or flat arches

worn out shoesImproper Footwear

Old, worn out, or poorly fitting athletic shoes can also increase the likelihood of developing Achilles tendonitis and plantar fasciitis. This is particularly true for patients who have flat feet or low arches. A person with this foot type often needs more supportive shoes to keep their feet stable and pain free. Learn how to tell if you need new shoes.

Learn to tell if you need new shoes

Tight calf muscles

Another factor in development of back of heel pain are tight calf muscles or equinus. Tight calf muscles limit range of motion and make it much more likely for a person to roll inward or pronate causing strain and inflammation on the heel cord.

Learn more about tight calf muscles

Other Types of Back of Heel Conditions

Other types of back of heel conditions can result from too much exercise or other factors.

heel spur treatment in SeattleHeel spurs

Heel spurs are osteophytes on the bottom or back of the calcaneus, or heel bone. These result from conditions such as plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis, in which additional stress is placed on the plantar fascia ligament or Achilles tendon.  The bone grows in response to the tight ligament or tendon as the micro-tears in these structures repair themselves. Heel spurs may not cause pain by themselves but may be associated with back of heel pain.

Learn more about heel spurs

Bursitis

Bursitis occurs when the bursa located at the back of the heel becomes irritated and inflamed from excessive walking or running. Initially the fluid-filled sac develops as a protection from micro trauma that occurs from the repetitive movements, but eventually the sac also becomes inflamed leaving the person with bursitis.

A special type of bursitis can be caused by Haglund's deformity or "pump bump". The back of the heel bone or calcaneus enlarges as a result of wearing shoes that are too tight or stiff in the heel. This condition can also develop as a result of a tight Achilles tendon or having a high arched foot.

Learn more about bursitis

Insertional Pain of the Achilles Tendon

Insertional pain of the Achilles Tendon occurs at the site where the Achilles tendon inserts on the back of the heel bone. The tendon and its covering become inflamed, and a spur may form at the back of the heel. This condition is commonly caused by chronic overuse of the Achilles, a flatfoot deformity, or an acute injury.

Learn more about insertional pain of the Achilles tendon

stress fracture treatment in SeattleStress Fracture         

Athletes and others can also develop an overuse injury called a stress fracture on the back of the heel from a rapid increase in exercise. Stress fractures can also develop by changing the exercise surface (going from running on a soft track to concrete), poor running technique (i.e. compensating for a blister or bunion), and/or poor bone health (women who have low bone density due to menopause or low weight due to dieting or eating disorders).

Learn more about stress fracture

sever's disease treatment in North SeattleSever's Disease

Sever's disease is a condition that affects children between the ages of 8-14. Pain can be felt at the back or the bottom of the heel as a result of inflammation of the growth plate. Sever's disease or calcaneal apophysitis is most commonly experienced in youth athletes, particularly those involved in soccer, track, or basketball. Unlike adult heel pain it doesn't subside immediately once the activity stops.

Learn more about Sever's disease

Treatment for Back of Heel Pain in North Seattle

To treat and prevent back of heel pain it's important to properly diagnose the condition and the factors that contribute to it. The following modalities and suggestions are part of a comprehensive plan to resolve back of heel pain

prevention of back of heel painBuild Up Your Exercise Slowly

As mentioned earlier back of heel pain can result from rapid increases in exercise. Therefore it's best to increase your time and distance by no more than 10-20% per week. You’re much more likely to get a repetitive injury if you’re body and feet aren’t ready.

Curtailing Exercise

While limiting or reducing exercise may be enough to prevent or stop some back of heel pain, curtailing exercise altogether is necessary with a someone with a stress fractures or Sever's disease in order to heal.

Shopping for Shoes

get your feet measured The type of exercise you engage in should dictate the type of shoes you purchase. Supportive shoes designed for your sport can make a big difference in preventing back of heel pain and other painful foot conditions. Be sure to follow these tips when shopping for shoes:

  • Go to a reputable store - go to a store that specializes in the sport you engage in.
  • Replace the insert that comes with your athletic shoes with an over-the-counter insert like Powerstep.
  • Go shopping later in the day when feet are more likely to swell.
  • Get your feet measured and buy shoes to fit your larger foot.
  • Test your shoes for stability - shoes should bend at the toe not in the center, be difficult to twist when you try to wring them out like a rag, and have a stiff heel counter that you can’t move easily.
  • Replace worn out shoes every 500 miles.

stretchingStretching for Tight Calf Muscles

While everyone should stretch before engaging in exercise, this is essential for people with tight calf muscles. For many people standing stretches may be sufficient, but for those with very tight calf muscles I recommend using an Achilles splint for 30 mins during the day while watching television or reading a book. This needs to be done daily for a least three weeks.

custom orthoticsCustom Orthotics

To resolve and prevent flare ups of most back of heel pain, custom orthotics are often necessary. This is particular true for those with a diagnosis of Achilles tendonitis and if your back of heel pain is worse because you have flat feet or low arches. Custom orthotics will correct faulty foot mechanics and relieve pressure from the Achilles tendon.

Laser Treatments       

MLS laser and other cold lasers can greatly help reduce back of heel inflammation and pain. The MLS laser uses dual wavelengths of infrared light to penetrate deep into the tissue and stimulate regeneration at the cellular level. Patients often experience relief with as few as 2-3 treatments.

Restarting Exercise

As with any inflammatory condition, a return to exercise must be gradual.

Need Relief From Back of Heel Pain in Seattle, Washington? Request an Appointment Now

Don't let back of heel pain or other painful foot conditions cause you to miss out on the activities you enjoy. Complete the contact form on this page or call our office at 206-368-7000 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Berg.

Most new patients are seen within 1-2 week's time. During your initial visit, Dr. Berg will spend up to 30 minutes getting to know you, your podiatry complaints, and your goals so that he can recommend the treatment best meets your needs. Don’t wait—contact us today.

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Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.
2 Comments
Thank you for such a clearly written article. It helped me to understand the possible causes of my heel pain.
by Ana Evers June 11, 2022 at 03:21 PM
Thank you for this blog. this is a very useful and informative blog about heel pain
by Darwin Podiatry February 2, 2022 at 08:35 AM
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