Heel pain can be a debilitating condition that affects one’s mobility and quality of life. While heel pain commonly manifests at the bottom of the heel (plantar fasciitis), it can also occur on the side of the heel. In this article, we will explore the causes, diagnosis, and treatment options for side of heel pain.
Causes of Side of Heel Pain
Side of heel pain can have various underlying causes, including:
Inflammation of the Achilles tendon, which runs along the back of the ankle, can cause pain on the side of the heel. This condition is often associated with overuse, improper footwear, or sudden increase in physical activity.
The retrocalcaneal bursa, located between the Achilles tendon and the heel bone, can become inflamed, leading to side of heel pain. This condition is typically caused by repetitive stress, footwear irritation, or underlying inflammatory conditions.
Also known as “pump bump,” Haglund’s deformity is a bony enlargement at the back of the heel. The prominence can rub against shoes, causing irritation and pain on the side of the heel.
Stress fractures or fractures of the heel bone (calcaneus) can cause pain on the side of the heel. These injuries are often associated with trauma, repetitive impact, or excessive physical activity.
Accurate diagnosis of side of heel pain is crucial for appropriate treatment. A healthcare professional, such as a podiatrist or orthopedic specialist, will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, which may include:
Understanding the individual’s medical history, activity level, and any previous injuries is essential for determining the cause of the pain.
The healthcare professional will assess the affected heel, checking for signs of swelling, tenderness, or deformities. They may also evaluate the range of motion and perform specific maneuvers to elicit pain.
X-rays, ultrasound, or MRI scans may be ordered to assess the structures of the foot and heel in more detail. These imaging tests can help identify fractures, tendon abnormalities, or other underlying causes.
Treatment for side of heel pain depends on the underlying cause and severity of the condition. Common treatment approaches include:
Rest and Activity Modification
Avoiding activities that aggravate the pain and providing adequate rest to the foot can aid in the healing process. Modifying activity levels and gradually returning to regular exercise can prevent further damage.
Ice and Compression
Applying ice packs and using compression techniques can help reduce inflammation and alleviate pain. Ice can be applied for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may help manage pain and reduce inflammation. However, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional before using any medication.
Targeted exercises and stretches can improve flexibility, strengthen the affected muscles and tendons, and promote healing. Physical therapy may also include techniques such as ultrasound or laser therapy to aid in the recovery process.
Custom-made or over-the-counter shoe inserts (orthotics) can provide support and alleviate pressure on the affected area. They can help correct biomechanical issues and promote proper foot alignment.
Wearing properly fitting, supportive shoes with cushioning and appropriate arch support can alleviate heel pain. Avoiding high heels or shoes with a rigid back can reduce irritation in Haglund’s deformity.
In severe cases or when conservative treatments fail, immobilization through a cast or walking boot may be necessary to allow the heel to heal properly.
Surgery is typically reserved for cases where conservative treatments do not provide relief. Surgical procedures aim to address the underlying cause of the heel pain, such as removing bony prominences or repairing damaged tendons.
Side of heel pain can significantly impact one’s daily activities and overall well-being. Understanding the underlying causes, obtaining an accurate diagnosis, and seeking appropriate treatment are essential steps towards finding relief.
By consulting a healthcare professional and following their guidance, individuals experiencing side of heel pain can regain their mobility and return to an active, pain-free lifestyle.