If you have ever suffered from a bruised heel, then you know that it can be a painful endurance. This short guide will highlight some of the symptoms associated with heel bruises and common treatment options that can help improve them and promote healing.
Bruised Heel Symptoms
Also known as policeman’s heel or fat pad contusion, a bruised heel is a contusion caused by injury to the soft tissues beneath the heel. It usually occurs as a result of trauma (e.g. when hit by another player in a soccer game or when you land heavily on a foot) a result of overuse such as long distance running, repetitive jumping.
The heel bone (or calcaneous bone if you like) is the largest bone in the foot and the main weight bearing bone. It makes the initial contact with the ground as a person walks, lands from a jump, or jog. So, what are the symptoms of bruised heel?
A person’s weight is transferred from the tibia to the talus (smaller tarsal bone) and ultimately to the heel bone from where it is then transferred to the toes through the other smaller tarsal bones and on to the metatarsals. The central role played by the heel bone in this process makes it particularly prone to injuries and bruises on the heel bone.
It is surrounded a protective pad made of elastic fatty tissues which cushions it against trauma and impacts. When a heel is pounded repeatedly, the pad can flatten or even end up being displaced laterally or medially (to one side of the heel).With a thinner protective layer left, the heel bone becomes susceptible to bruises.
Bruised heels are usually painful. In fact pain when walking or carrying weight is almost always the first symptom of bruised heels. Swelling may also occur in and around the ailing heel. The heel may also feel tender.
If a patient continues to work with the heel bruised, the injury may cause chronic inflammation of the periosteum (outside edges of the heel bone). This is a more serious problem which is rather difficult to treat.
Some of the risk factors and symptoms for bruising of heels are:
- Excessive weight
- Poor choice of running shoes; not well cushioned or worn-out
- Training barefoot
- Hard and uneven training surfaces
Bruised Heel Treatment
What is the best bruised heel treatment? A bruised heel is usually diagnosed through clinical and medical history evaluation by your doctor. An x-ray may however be required to rule out a heel bone fracture.
The goals of bruised heel treatment are to alleviate pain and swelling while preventing any further injuries and promoting healing. It typically involves what is called RICE treatment standing from Rest, Icing, Compression, and Elevation.
Rest: Taking a break from strenuous activities, including sports, and taking lots of rest alleviates pressure from the affected heel bone and allows it as well as other affected soft tissues time to heal on their own.
Icing: Icing the injured area on the other hand helps to reduce swelling and alleviate pain. Your options range from applying the ice through an ice bag to immersing your foot in an ice bucket. Consider icing the bruised area for twenty minutes every 2-3 hours for the first 2-3 days.
NB: After 3 days, it may be in order to apply heat treatments to the bruised heel such as warm water, heating pads etc.
Compression: This is aimed at encouraging blood circulation in the affected area which in turn promotes healing while reducing swelling. Taping (or strapping) is a common intervention in this regards.
Elevation: keeping the affected foot elevated also helps to encourage blood circulation and reduce swelling. Try to keep the foot propped up above the level of the heart.
Other interventions commonly used to treat heel bruises are:
- Taping (or strapping)
- Ultrasound therapy
- Surgery (although rarely necessary)
How to Heal a Bruised Heel at Home
And then there is Ann who complained about a heel injury and wanted to know how to heal a bruised heel with a simple home care regime that could ease swelling.
Here is a simple plan on how to heal a bruised heel that can help you not only reduce the swelling but also cut down on pain and aid the healing process, all from the comfort of your home:
- Start by freezing a 500 ml bottle of water. Once frozen, step on a towel placed on the floor (while seated comfortably in a chair), ensuring that your bruised foot is flush with the floor. Now roll the frozen water bottle all the way from toes to the heel continuously for 20 minutes or so. This will help to reduce swelling and stretch the foot muscles out.
- Next, massage your calf muscle gently running your hands along its entire length. Put particular emphasis on the lower portion of the leg. After 10 minutes of massage, apply a heat wrap or muscle rub.
- Repeat the entire process several times a day; three times at the very least.
Bruised Heel Taping
Some cases of bruised heels may benefit from taping. Bruised heel taping is intended to compress the soft tissues around the affected heel. This increases the natural cushioning of the foot which then protects the heel from further trauma and thus encourage healing.
To do that, you will need a roll of zinc oxide tape of between 1 and 2.5 cm width.
Bruised heel taping procedure:
- Place a strip of tape (anchor strip) horizontally from one side of the heel to the other
- Now place another strip (support strip) beneath the heel extending from one side to the other
- Alternate between horizontal anchor strips and support strips (below the heel), but move each subsequent support strip to the next uncovered heel area until the entire underside of the heel (not the foot) is covered.
What to Do for a Bruised Heel Bone
“I was practicing for high jump in preparation for the upcoming athletics games when I bruised my right heel. What suggestions do you have to help me alleviate the pain and swelling and heal faster ready for the games in a month’s time?” Angelina. Well, here’s what to do for a bruised heel bone:
Your first course of action is to take a break from any sporting activities. In fact, you should have already taken a break as we speak since if the onset of pain is ignored, the fat pad that cushions the heel bone can progressively get damaged to a point where it is not as easy to repair. This might make it rather difficult to treat the injury.
If you must walk around, place some good shock absorbing heel inserts in your shoes and tape the heel for additional protection. You will also want to ice your heel every now and then and keep it elevated to allow adequate blood circulation.
With adequate rest and this simple home care measures, you should have recover in just a few days. If it however doesn’t seem to improve after a few days of home care, seek the attention of your doctor.