Heel Stress Fracture vs Plantar Fasciitis

A heel stress fracture refers to a small crack in the bone due to repetitive force or overuse, while plantar fasciitis involves micro-tearing and inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue running along the foot’s bottom between the toes and heel bone.

In this article, we will help you determine whether you are dealing with a heel stress fracture or plantar fasciitis. We will further tell you the difference between the two conditions.

Heel Stress Fracture: what is it?

Heel Stress Fracture

Are you confused between heel stress fracture vs plantar fasciitis? Don’t worry; you are not alone. 

A heel stress fracture occurs due to overly intense exercise, high impact, and overuse. It is a fissure or small crack in one of the bones in the heel. However, osteoporosis, a condition where the bones become susceptible to fractures due to brittleness, can also cause this condition. 

People who have heavy loads on their feet, especially during extended periods of standing, may lead to a heel stress fracture. This condition can also develop if you switch from an active lifestyle to a sedentary one or vice versa without enough time for the body to adjust.

Heel Stress Fracture: what are the causes?

Bone health, injury, and overuse are the most common cause of heel stress fracture. This condition may happen during daily activities if you take medications that can weaken the bones or have osteoporosis.

You can also develop heel stress fracture if you have vitamin D deficiency. Here are the factors that can cause this condition:

  • Trauma 
  • A diet that lacks calcium and vitamin D
  • Medications that weaken the bone or osteoporosis 
  • Wearing footwear that does not fit properly or provide proper support or cushioning 
  • Exercising, walking, or running on uneven and hard surfaces 
  • No adequate rest between workouts 
  • Increased intensity of exercise without building endurance or warming up 
  • Injuries 

Heel Stress Fracture: what are the symptoms?

A heel stress fracture causes a sudden onset of intense pain. This condition may result from a sudden impact or fall. It can also occur on the bones in the heel that does not have sufficient time to heal from injuries sustained during workouts.

Below are the symptoms of a heel stress fracture:

  • Stretching results in pain 
  • Red and swollen fracture site 
  • Intense pain and tenderness at one point in the heel 
  • Pain that gets worse the longer a person stands or on the feet 

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Heel Stress Fracture: how to diagnose 

If you suspect you have a heel stress fracture, it is recommended to seek medical attention as soon as possible. This will help you prevent full break or further damage to the bone.

The doctor will examine the affected foot and often take x-rays to confirm the condition. Since these fractures are tiny, they are sometimes hard to see on the x-ray result. 

If the symptoms you experience indicate a heel stress fracture, the doctor will treat you regardless of whether or not the fracture shows up on the x-ray.

Heel Stress Fracture: what are the treatments?

While waiting for the doctor’s appointments, you can do things to prevent a complete break or further damage to the bone. 

Here are recommended treatments for heel stress fracture:

  • Wear shoes that reduce strain or stress on the leg or foot 
  • Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve pain and swelling 
  • Spend 2 to 8 weeks of rest 
  • Put ice on the injured area for about 10 minutes 
  • Massage the injured area with ice for 3 to 5 minutes 

Plantar Fasciitis: what is it?

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis leads to micro-tears and inflammation in the plantar fascia. The pain usually occurs when the plantar fascia attaches to the heel.

People who wear shoes with no adequate support, overweight individuals, and athletes are more likely to suffer from plantar fasciitis.

Plantar Fasciitis: what are the causes?

Injury or overuse of the arch can cause plantar fasciitis. Damage and inflammation can lead to intense heel pain, especially during the first steps in the morning. 

Different factors can lead to this condition, such as:

  • Uneven distribution of weight on the feet due to high or flat arches 
  • Walking or standing without wearing shoes with the necessary support 
  • Increased body weight that adds extra pressure on the arches
  • Too intense workout sessions before warming up the ligaments and muscles

Plantar Fasciitis: what are the symptoms?

The most obvious sign of plantar fasciitis is intense pain in the morning, which improves a bit with movement and use as the plantar fascia warms up and stretches.

Here are the common symptoms of plantar fasciitis:

  • Persistent dull, sharp, or needle-like pain that causes someone to limp
  • Pain that improves with icing, stretching exercises, and rest 
  • Inflammation, swelling, and redness in the heel up to the arch 
  • Achy stiff arches and heels 

Plantar Fasciitis: how to diagnose 

The doctor will diagnose plantar fasciitis according to your medical history, lifestyle, and the arch and heel examination.

X-rays cannot always confirm this condition. So, the doctor will look for inflammation and thickening of the plantar fascia and even the presence of a heel spur. On the other hand, heel spurs are rarely found in all plantar fasciitis cases.

Plantar Fasciitis: what are the treatments?

In most cases, conservative treatment methods help improve foot support and remove inflammation related to plantar fasciitis. 

Below are the recommended treatments for plantar fasciitis:

  • Use of anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, for pain management 
  • Weight control and diet changes (avoiding inflammatory foods)
  • Use of orthotics
  • Shoes with proper fit and size that support the plantar fascia, heel, and toes 
  • A cold compress on the plantar fascia and heel 
  • Regular exercise 

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Assessing your heel and foot situation is critical to getting the proper treatment, preventing long-term damage, and avoiding further injury. Heel stress fracture and plantar fasciitis may have similarities, like intense heel pain; they are different conditions.

We hope that the article has been helpful to you in determining whether you have a heel stress fracture or plantar fasciitis. If you want to know about “Does walking boots help Plantar Fasciitis”, you can check out our experts guide on this link.

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