Get the Scoop on Heel Fractures
You have an amazing bone in the back of your foot called the calcaneus. It supports your entire skeleton when standing and absorbs the impact of your foot striking the ground when you walk and run. You’d think the heel would be made of something solid, but in reality, the inside is rather spongy and soft under a hard outer crust. A heel fracture which damages the outer layer can lead to deterioration of the entire bone, which is why it can be such a serious injury.
How You Might Break Your Heel
One of the causes for a heel fracture is a car accident. With the rate of crashes higher among those 16 to 19 years old, teens are more at risk for a broken heel. There are certain occupational hazards, too, such as construction workers and painters who spend time on ladders and risk injury from a fall. Even a twisting injury may result in a crack in the bone. Finally, repeated trauma from dancing, running, or jumping and landing in extreme sports can lead to stress fractures of the calcaneus.
How to Tell If Your Heel is Broken
A sudden pain in the back of the foot may be an indication, especially if you also can’t stand to put any weight on it. You may notice bruising in the area, and it may swell up. Any time you have heel pain after a fall or an accident, you should have it checked out to see if it is broken.
A stress fracture may be a bit harder to figure out. The pain may develop slowly over a period of days or weeks. You could have swelling, but there will typically not be bruising. Sometimes the bone may be tender if you gently squeeze it between your fingers and thumb.
The only way to be really sure is to let us x-ray it or use other imaging tests to see if it is a broken bone or just soft tissue damage that is causing your pain. We can also decide what treatment you will require to heal properly and lessen your chances of long-term complications in your foot.
How Heel Fractures Are Treated
So much depends on the type of break and how serious it is. Stress fractures usually respond to rest and keeping weight off from them. While you are resting, elevate it as much as possible to reduce fluid buildup and swelling. You can use ice wrapped in a thin towel for pain and swelling as well. Sometimes we recommend a cast or brace even though the bone is not completely broken, just for extra protection as it heals.
A closed, stable fracture (skin not broken and bone pieces lined up) may just need a cast during recovery, but an open or displaced one (skin broken and bone jagged with ends not meeting) might need surgery to pin or plate the bone in place. A comminuted fracture (broken into several pieces) is the most serious and will likely not heal properly without surgery.
Recovery and Physical Therapy for a Broken Heel
Even with a simple fracture, you should plan to keep weight off your foot for 6 to 8 weeks until the bone has fully mended. If surgery is needed, the recovery time will be about 3 months, and a serious fracture may not be fully healed for a year or more.
Patience is the key to a full recovery. We will let you know when it is safe to start basic range-of-motion exercises. These may hurt a bit at first, but they are crucial to regaining your normal function. We will instruct you in the type of physical therapy that will help you regain strength and stability in the foot. Because the heel bone may widen from the break, your old shoes may not fit and may need to be replaced.
Be assured that the expert podiatrists at Aadvanced Foot Care Associates in Queens will guide you through every step of your treatment and recovery. Call our office in Rego Park, NY at (718) 896-4433, in Flushing at (718) 969-2266, and in Plainview at (516) 822-9595.