Pain in the Back of the Heel — What’s the Deal?

Pain in the Back of the Heel — What’s the Deal?

You started at dawn and after eight hours of hiking, you’re almost to Crested Butte, and then it happens—pain in the back of the heel. It will make the grueling climb over West Maroon Pass at 12,500 feet seem easy compared to that last mile into town. Pain in the back of the heel when walking, hiking, running and biking is often experienced by active people who live and play in the Aspen Valley. Thankfully, you have the benefit of specialized orthopedic care—within your very own community.

OrthoAspen, in alliance with renowned Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), provides Roaring Fork Valley and Western Slope patients with the best quality care for a diverse range of orthopedic injuries and conditions. Our foot and ankle team is practiced and experienced in diagnosing and treating chronic orthopedic issues that affect the bones, joints and connective tissues of the feet and ankles—including heel pain.

Pain in the Back of the Heel — How to Heal the Bursitis Blues

Whether you experience sudden, sharp pain in the back of heel or a more subtle onset of pain, it can be more than frustrating. Heel pain does not mix well with mountain hiking, biking, running or, let’s face it, walking.

One of the most likely culprits of pain in the back of the heel bone is bursitis. Typically, when heel pain manifests slowly, accompanied by inflammation, swelling and even a visible bump, the diagnosis may be bursitis. This condition often develops among runners or those who wear shoes that create friction with the back of the heel.

In addition to bursitis, pain in the back of the heel may also indicate conditions such as:

  • Water skiing in Lake Powell is a favorite “off-season” getaway for Roaring Fork Valley locals. Achilles Tendonitis
    Similar to bursitis, Achilles tendonitis can result from shoes that don’t fit properly or activities that involve overuse—running, jumping and other sports that involve impact to the Achilles tendon.
  • Stress Fracture
    More common among runners, stress fractures typically produce heel pain from repetitive stress and overuse.
  • Trapped Nerve
    In addition to heel pain, a trapped nerve may be indicated by symptoms of numbness, tingling and swelling. There may also be bruising and discoloration, especially if the trapped nerve happened as a result of a sprain or fracture.

Many people wonder if plantar fasciitis could be causing pain in the back of their heel. Typically, patients with plantar fasciitis experience bottom of the heel pain, rather than pain focused in the area where the Achilles tendon connects to the heel.

How OrthoAspen Foot Specialists Treat Heel Pain

Depending on the diagnosis and your medical history, your OrthoAspen foot and ankle specialist will likely prescribe a conservative treatment method. Whenever possible, we prefer to utilize non-surgical, leading-edge techniques and integrative approaches to address pain.

Often, one of the following heel pain treatment methods will be prescribed:

  • Shoe Inserts. Special shoe inserts or orthotics can help to cushion and protect the heel. It’s also important to make sure you’re wearing appropriate shoes, equipped with shock absorption and cushioning.
  • Medication. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) can reduce pain and swelling, such as ibuprofen and naproxen.
  • RICE Method. Rest, ice, compression and elevation are used for many orthopedic injuries and uncomfortable symptoms, including heel pain. Ice should be placed on the back of the heel to address inflammation.
  • Stretches. Special stretches and exercises are useful not only as a treatment protocol, but also as a preventative strategy. One of the best stretches you can perform is called a heel cord stretch.
    • Fit woman performing heel chord stretch.What to do: Stand facing a wall in a short-stanced lunge. Place the foot experiencing heel pain behind you, as the back lunging leg. Lean slightly forward, adding a small bend to your front lunging leg. Keep your painful heel flat with your toes pointed slightly in—make sure your back leg is straight. Keep both heels flat and press your hips forward, slowly. Hold for 30 seconds, stretching your heel and calf muscle, and then release for 30 seconds.
    • When to do it: Always check with your orthopedic doctor before performing any activity. If you are cleared for this exercise, start by practicing this stretch 10 times and then work up to one more round of 10 after a short rest. Heel cord stretches can be practiced daily.

If you’ve been experiencing pain in the back of the heel, it’s always best to consult with an orthopedic expert. Our OrthoAspen foot and ankle specialists are here to help you walk away from pain and get you back to living a life in motion.

Get the expert orthopedic care you deserve. Schedule your appointment now, or contact us today at 970-544-1289 for any questions.


Visit OrthoAspen in two convenient locations
Aspen Clinic
Aspen Valley Hospital
0401 Castle Creek Rd., Suite 2100,

Aspen, CO 81611
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1400
Basalt Clinic
Midvalley Medical Center
1450 E. Valley Rd., Suite 201,

Basalt, CO 81621
+(970) 544-1289
+(970) 544-1400