Plantar heel pain

This information is useful for those who have been diagnosed with plantar heel pain. People experiencing new or ongoing symptoms should contact a healthcare professional for assessment and diagnosis.

Read more about self-managing a foot problem

What is plantar heel pain?

Plantar heel pain, or pain in the heel at the sole of the foot, is a common foot problem. This is called plantar fasciopathy, which used to be known as plantar fasciitis.

The pain is usually worse first thing in the morning, or when you first take a step after a period of inactivity. The symptoms usually build up gradually and get worse over time.

What causes plantar heel pain?

The plantar fascia is a tough and flexible band of tissue that runs under the sole of the foot. It connects the heel bone with your toes, and acts as a shock absorber to the foot.

Sudden or repeated stresses can cause the plantar fascia to thicken, resulting in heel pain. The surrounding muscles and the heel bone can also be involved.

It’s unlikely you would need an x-ray or scan unless it’s to rule out another condition.

Treating plantar heel pain

There are a number of treatments that can help relieve heel pain and speed up your recovery.

Exercises for plantar heel pain

Exercises designed to stretch both your calf muscles and your plantar fascia should help relieve pain and improve flexibility in the affected foot.

Pacing your activities

While recovering you should try to stay as active as you can.

Remember a little activity is better than nothing. Continue to stay within acceptable pain limits but remember you don’t need to be pain free. Aim to do a little bit more each day or every few days.

How to tell if you’re exercising at the right level.

This guide can help you to understand if you’re pacing your daily activities at the right level as you build your movement levels up. It’ll also let you see how much pain or discomfort is acceptable.

It can be helpful to rate your pain out of 10 (0 being no pain, 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever had), for example:

  • 0 to 3 – minimal pain
  • 4 to 5 – acceptable pain
  • 6 to 10 – excessive pain

Pain during activity

Aim to keep your pain within a rating of 0 to 5. If your pain gets above this level, you can change the level of activity by:

  • reducing the number of times you do a movement
  • reducing the pace of an activity
  • increasing rest time between activities

Pain after activity

Activity shouldn’t make your existing pain worse overall. Increasing activity can lead to increased discomfort as your body gets used to regaining your activity levels. This kind of pain should ease quickly and your pain should be no worse the morning after.

Pain treatments

The following can help to reduce the pain:

  • pain medication – this can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery
  • ice packs

More about taking painkillers

Treating with ice

Ice can be beneficial in the initial stages of plantar heel pain.

Never place ice directly on your skin. Use a barrier, like a towel, to protect your skin from a burn.

How long you use ice as a treatment can vary. However, you should generally apply ice for up to 15 minutes. You should also leave a few hours between treatments.

You should stop treating the area with ice and seek advice from a medical professional if you notice the skin in the area has:

  • an increase in redness
  • discolouration
  • blistering

If you have any issues with circulation or sensation, you shouldn’t use ice as a treatment for heel pain.

Work

A foot problem can sometimes mean you need to take some time off work to help recovery. How long you’re off will depend on the nature of your condition and your role at work.

You do not need to be symptom free before you consider returning to work. Continuing to go to work, or returning to work as soon as is possible for you, will help your recovery. Gradually getting back to your normal daily activities can help to build up your strength and stamina levels

Help and support 

Following this advice, you should see gradual improvements over time.

Talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms if you’ve been following this advice and:

  • your symptoms haven’t improved within 12 weeks
  • your symptoms are worsening

Find out how to access MSK services in your area

When dealing with any health condition it’s important to also look after your mental wellbeing as this can impact your recovery.


Last updated:
08 January 2024

There are no NHS operators available to chat at this time