You take a step, and you feel it—pain at the bottom of your foot, under your heel. You might also notice tenderness or pain when you press on the area. You’ve bruised your heel, and you want to get to the bottom of it.
Thomas Atwood, DPM, a podiatrist with Banner Health in Greeley, CO, explained more about what can cause a heel pad bruise, how to treat it and when to seek medical help.
What could cause a bruised heel?
“Bruised heels are extremely common,” Dr. Atwood said. “And it is not uncommon for both heels to be involved.” A lot of different activities can bruise your heel:
- You increased your activity level a lot, so you’re on your feet more than usual.
- You’ve changed the type of shoes you usually wear.
- You’ve started to walk barefoot a lot.
- You’re exercising more.
- You jumped from a height and landed on your heel.
- You’re a runner, and the repetitive foot strikes have bruised your heel, especially if your shoes don’t have enough cushioning.
What are the symptoms?
When you have a bruised heel, you’ve damaged the fat pad that protects the heel or the heel bone. It can feel sore and tender, just like a bruise on any other part of the body. You’ll often notice pain when you first get up in the morning and when you start an activity after resting. Sometimes, though, the pain comes on spontaneously. Often, your heel will feel better when you wear a supportive, cushioned shoe. You may notice that your skin is red or purple around the bruise.
Plantar fasciitis, which has similar symptoms, can cause a more severe, long-lasting form of heel pain. It occurs when the tissue that attaches your heel to your toes gets inflamed or torn. A calcaneal stress fracture, a hairline fracture in the heel bone that is caused by overuse, also has similar symptoms.
How can you treat a bruised heel?
A bruised heel can be annoying, and you’ll want to take steps to alleviate the pain as quickly as possible, so it doesn’t interfere with your activities. “The sooner you start treatment, the faster it will resolve. This can turn into a chronic problem if you don’t treat it in a timely manner,” Dr. Atwood said. He recommends:
- Ice: Apply ice to the bruised part of your heel to help reduce inflammation.
- Stretching: Stretch your foot and calf to improve flexibility and range of motion in your foot, ankle and lower leg.
- Wearing shoes: “No barefoot walking,” Dr. Atwood said. And stay away from shoes that could bother your heel, like flip flops or loose sandals.
- Choosing the right shoes for exercise: You’ll want supportive, protective footwear when you’re active or exercising.
- Changing activities: If running, basketball, tennis or another sport caused your bruised heel, switch to walking, biking or swimming until the bruise clears up. Returning to high-impact activities too quickly can keep your heel from healing.
You can also take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen.
Most heel bruises clear up in a week or two, though it can take longer if you’ve bruised the heel bone. You should consult a doctor if home treatments aren’t starting to help in a couple of days or if your pain gets worse.
Your doctor can rule out other possible problems, such as a fractured heel. They might suggest treatment options such as orthotic arch supports, prescription anti-inflammatory medications or physical therapy.
The bottom line
Bruised heels are common, and most of the time, you can treat them at home. You want to treat them quickly, though, so they don’t become a long-term problem.