Heel Pain: Diagnosis and Management

Am Fam Physician. 2018 Jan 15;97(2):86-93.


The differential diagnosis of heel pain is extensive, but a mechanical etiology is the most common. The specific anatomic location of the pain can help guide diagnosis. The most common diagnosis is plantar fasciitis, which leads to medial plantar heel pain, especially with the first weight-bearing steps after rest. Other causes of plantar heel pain include calcaneal stress fractures (progressively worsening pain after an increase in activity or change to a harder walking surface), nerve entrapment or neuroma (pain accompanied by burning, tingling, or numbness), heel pad syndrome (deep, bruise-like pain in the middle of the heel), and plantar warts. Achilles tendinopathy is a common cause of posterior heel pain; other tendinopathies result in pain localized to the insertion site of the affected tendon. Posterior heel pain can also be attributed to Haglund deformity (a prominence of the calcaneus that may lead to retrocalcaneal bursa inflammation) or Sever disease (calcaneal apophysitis common in children and adolescents). Medial midfoot heel pain, particularly with prolonged weight bearing, may be due to tarsal tunnel syndrome, which is caused by compression of the posterior tibial nerve. Sinus tarsi syndrome manifests as lateral midfoot heel pain and a feeling of instability, particularly with increased activity or walking on uneven surfaces.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Foot Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Foot Diseases / therapy
  • Heel / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Pain / etiology*
  • Pain Management / methods