Bruised heels and how to treat them
A bruise to the heel, sometimes called a heel contusion, is an injury to the soft tissue in and around the heel. This causes bleeding under the skin, though the skin does not break. A sudden blow to the heel, such as from a fall, can also lead to bruising.
In some cases, however, an injury that feels like a bruise is actually something else, such as plantar fasciitis.
Bruises can take several weeks to heal, depending on their severity. If the injury is, in fact, a bruise, it will heal on its own. The following home remedies can help relieve the pain.
Apply a cold compress
Apply a cold compress to the injured area for 10–20 minutes at a time to help dull the pain. This also reduces inflammation and swelling, which may speed healing time and make it easier to move.
Some people find relief from rolling the foot over a bottle of cold or frozen water.
A few days after the injury, try applying heat to the area. Some people prefer to alternate heat and ice packs. Let the pain guide the treatment, and use whichever works best: heat, ice, or both.
Elevate the heel
Sleep with the foot above the level of the heart and, during the day, elevate it as often as possible. This can reduce swelling and pain. Try lying down with the foot under a few pillows.
Rest the area
Avoid any strenuous activity for the first few days. Exercise and sports can reinjure the heel.
Heel injuries can also destabilize the foot, increasing the risk of other injuries.
The following foot and heel stretch may help:
- While sitting, lift the injured heel and cross the foot over the other leg.
- Use a hand to gently pull the toes back toward the body until you feel a stretch.
- Hold this for 10–20 seconds, repeating 5–10 times.
Gently massage the area around the heel. This promotes blood flow and can help ease muscle tension.
Some people unconsciously tense their muscles because of pain, which can cause the pain to radiate to other areas, such as the leg. Massage may help correct this.
Take weight off the heel
Immobilize the foot and heel for a day or two, using a wrap or splint. This also puts gentle pressure on the heel that can help compress it, reducing pain and swelling.
Rest and support for the heel can help treat bruises.
- Wear comfortable shoes that fit well and do not rub the heel. Some people find relief from special orthotic shoes.
- Take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID, such as ibuprofen.
- Do not walk barefoot on hard surfaces.
- Do not do anything that hurts, including heel stretches or exercises.
- Try adding soft heel inserts to shoes. These gently lift the heels, removing pressure and preventing further bruising.
For severe bruises, a doctor might recommend physical therapy or prescription shoes. For pain that is very severe, they may offer prescription pain medication.
If what feels like a bruise is actually an underlying condition, such as plantar fasciitis, the doctor may recommend steroid injections to speed healing and ease the pain. Some people may require surgery.
When to see a doctor
A doctor may use X-rays or imaging scans, such as MRIs, to see inside the foot. They may also test for other injuries.
Plantar fasciitis commonly causes heel pain and may feel like a bruise. Inflammation and irritation of the band of tissue — the fascia — that supports the arch of the foot causes this painful condition. Unlike a bruised heel, however, plantar fasciitis may not go away on its own. Sometimes it requires surgery.
Other issues can also cause bruise-like heel pain, including:
- heel fractures
- Achilles tendinitis
- infection in the muscles or bones
- chronic illnesses, such as arthritis
See a doctor if any of the following occur:
- The pain lasts longer than 1 week.
- The pain is very intense.
- There are signs of low blood circulation, such as swelling in the foot or tingling.
- It is impossible to walk or move the foot.
- A fever accompanies the pain.
Because injuries in young people can affect their growth and development, children and adolescents with heel pain should see a doctor within 1–2 days. Home remedies that work well for adults may not help children.
Encourage children to avoid physical activity, especially contact sports, until the pain is gone and the doctor has given permission for them to return to regular activities.
People with bleeding disorders should immediately call a doctor or go to the emergency room for any bleeding, including bleeding under the skin in a bruise.
A bruised heel should heal on its own. Minor bruises may get better in just a day or two, while deeper bruises can take several weeks. Rest can help speed healing, while overuse and excessive activity may slow the process — or even cause a new injury.
Pain that feels like a bruise can sometimes result from a different issue, so it is important to see a doctor if symptoms get worse or do not go away. Some of these problems, including fractures and infections, will not heal on their own and will get worse without treatment.
Plantar fasciitis, for example, can become a chronic injury. People with plantar fasciitis may notice that their symptoms get better then reappear, especially after periods of overuse or intense activity. Some need surgery to treat the injury.
Only a healthcare provider can accurately diagnose the cause of heel pain. If the pain is unbearable or there is concern about a serious injury, see a doctor. Heel injuries are treatable and addressing them early can speed healing.