Heel numbness is a condition in which an individual experiences a lack of sensation or tingling in the heel. It can be caused by a variety of factors and may be accompanied by other symptoms. In this article, we will discuss the causes, treatment, and related conditions of heel numbness.
Causes of Heel Numbness:
1. Nerve Compression
To prevent the nerves that supply the heel with sensation from operating normally, nerve compression must be avoided. Numerous factors, including trauma, inflammation, or pressure on the nerves, can cause the nerves that pass through the foot and ankle to become compressed or pinched.
Numbness, tingling, or a burning sensation in the heel can result from a compressed nerve because of the reduced blood flow and oxygen supply to the affected area. In addition to sensitivity to touch, nerve compression can result in weakness or difficulty moving the foot.
Tarsal tunnel syndrome is one instance of nerve compression that may result in heel numbness. This condition results in compression or damage to the tibial nerve, which runs along the inside of the ankle and causes pain, numbness, and tingling in the foot and ankle, including the heel.
2. Peripheral Neuropathy:
Peripheral neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves that carry information to and from the brain and spinal cord are damaged. This can result in numbness or tingling in various parts of the body, including the heel. Numerous conditions, including diabetes, alcoholism, vitamin deficiency, autoimmune disorders, and infections, can result in peripheral neuropathy.
The cause of peripheral neuropathy may not always be known. Peripheral neuropathy can numb the heel by harming the nerves that supply it with sensation. Numbness, tingling, or burning in various body parts, including the heel, are also among the common symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.
3. Poor Circulation:
Poor circulation can cause numbness in the heel by reducing blood flow to the area. There are several risk factors causing impaired blood flow to the heel and the other regions of the foot such as Diabetes, PAD(Peripheral artery disease), Smoking, obesity, previous surgery near the heel, or Injury/trauma.
4. Spinal Cord Injury:
Spinal cord injury is a very complex disorder and can cause various sensory and motor dysfunctions and heel pain, numbness and tingling are common signs of it.
5. Plantar Fasciitis:
Plantar fasciitis is a condition in which the tissue that connects the heel to the toes becomes inflamed. Heel numbness is not a very common symptom of the condition but sometimes when the plantar fascia running through the heel going up to the toes is inflamed it can irritate the surrounding nerves and cause numbness in the heel.
6. Poor footwear:
Prolonged standing or walking and wearing shoes with heels can cause extra stress on the heel and the foot and can lead to discomfort pain and numbness in the heel.
Treatment of Heel Numbness:
1. Rest and Ice:
Resting and ice application is the best method to relieve pain and numbness in the initial stages of rehab. The best way to ice is to take a bottle of water, refrigerate it and then roll it under the affected foot and the heel. It is advised to ice the heel for at least 15 minutes at least three times a day.
Alternating between Heat and ice is also something that you can try if the numbness is very severe and you do not feel the cold you must alternate between heat and ice, this method is called contrast therapy.
Stretching and Strengthening: Stretching and strengthening exercises can help improve flexibility and strength in the foot and ankle, which can reduce the risk of future injury and help alleviate symptoms. Some stretches that are usually advised are:
2. Calf stretch:
- Stand at arm’s length from a wall or a piece of sturdy exercise equipment.
- Place your right foot behind your left foot.
- Slowly bend your left leg forward, keeping your right knee straight and your right heel on the floor.
- Hold your back straight and your hips forward. Don’t rotate your feet inward or outward.
- Hold for about 30 seconds.
- Switch legs and repeat three times
3. Plantar fascia stretch:
- Sit on the floor or on a chair with the affected leg crossed over the unaffected leg.
- Hold your toes with the fingers of one hand and bend your toes and ankle up as far as you can. You want to feel a stretch in your calf and the arch of your foot.
- Hold this for about 30 seconds and repeat it three times
In rare cases, depending on the diagnosis or the cause of your heel numbness and discomfort, the doctor might decide to do a surgery which may be a nerve decompression surgery or a debridement (removal of dead tissue) surgery.
5. Foam rolling:
Using a foam roller or a tennis ball to roll under the foot and the heel has proven to be beneficial in reducing pain, discomfort, and numbness in the heel region. The way foam rolling works is by improving blood flow to the affected area and restoring normal blood flow and thus in turn improving sensations. It might not have an immediate effect but if practiced daily you will see the improvement.
Wearable orthotics have proven to be beneficial in the early stages of rehab to reduce pressure and improve sensations, discomfort, and pain. For instance; Silicone heel pads, silicone heel socks, and soft insoles.
Plantar Fasciitis: Plantar fasciitis is a condition in which the tissue that connects the heel to the toes becomes inflamed, causing pain, discomfort, tingling, and very rarely numbness in the heel.
Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome: Tarsal tunnel syndrome involves the tibial nerve, which runs along the inside of the ankle and becomes compressed or damaged, causing pain, numbness, and tingling in the foot and ankle.
Peripheral or Diabetic Neuropathy: Peripheral neuropathy is consistent with people having chronic type 1 and type 2 diabetes in which the nerves that carry information to and from the brain and spinal cord are damaged beyond repair and can cause numbness or tingling in various parts of the body, including the heel.
Q: How is numbness in the heel diagnosed?
A physical examination, a medical history review, and occasionally diagnostic tests like nerve conduction studies or imaging studies are used to diagnose heel numbness.
Q: What options are there for treating numbness in the heel?
Depending on the underlying cause, there are various ways to treat heel numbness, including medication to treat pain or underlying medical conditions, physical therapy or other exercises to improve nerve function, or surgery when structural problems like nerve compression are the root of the problem.
Q: Is it possible to prevent numb heels?
Heel numbness can be avoided by maintaining a healthy weight, wearing supportive shoes, managing underlying medical conditions, avoiding activities that place too much stress on the feet, and managing underlying medical conditions.
Is numbness in the heel a serious condition? It is crucial to see a doctor for an assessment and the proper course of treatment because heel numbness may be a sign of a serious underlying condition. Untreated heel numbness occasionally causes complications like infections or foot ulcers.
Hi, I am Parth Chowtia, an MSK/Sports Physiotherapist with a degree in Sports Medicine from Leeds Beckett University, UK. I have five years of experience working with top brands and like to share guides on preventing and managing injuries resulting from sports and exercise participation at all ages and levels of ability.