A bruised heel is an injury to the fat pad that protects the heel bone. It’s also known as policeman’s heel.
You can get a bruised heel from the repeated force of your foot striking the ground, like if you run or jump a lot. It can also happen from a single injury, such as jumping from a big height onto your heel. Either way, the bruise can cause pain whenever you take a step.
A bruised heel can take one to three weeks to heal. If you’ve also bruised the heel bone, it may take up to six weeks for you to recover.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of a bruised heel is pain at the bottom of your heel bone, also called the calcaneus. It’ll likely hurt when you walk or press on the heel. If the bone is also bruised, the pain might feel sharp.
You may also see a red or purple bruise on the outside of your heel. The bruise is from bleeding under the skin.
The pain from a bruise usually isn’t as severe or last as long as pain from plantar fasciitis. This is inflammation of the thick band of tissue that runs from the bottom of your foot up to your heel bone. With plantar fasciitis, you’ll feel an intense or stabbing pain when you take a step. The pain will be worse in the morning when you first stand up and after you exercise.
What causes a bruised heel?
A pad of fat surrounds and protects your heel bone. Damage to this pad from excessive force to your foot can lead to a bruised heel. Sometimes the heel bone can bruise, or the fat pad can tear.
Causes of a bruised heel include:
- repetitive pounding on the foot, such as from running or playing basketball or tennis
- wearing loose shoes like flip-flops that repeatedly tap against your heel
- jumping from a high spot and landing on your feet
- landing on your heels instead of the front of your feet when you run
- walking or running on hard surfaces
- stepping on a hard stone
You’re more likely to develop this condition if:
- you’re overweight
- your running shoes aren’t cushioned enough
- you work out or train harder than usual
- you run in bare feet
What are the treatment options?
If an activity like tennis or jogging caused your bruised heel, stop doing it until the injury heals. You can follow these tips to speed healing:
Doctors recommend the RICE method for treating heel pain:
- Rest. Keep your weight off the bruised heel as much as possible.
- Ice. Hold ice to your heel.
- Compression. Tape up the heel to prevent it from further injury.
- Elevation. Prop up the bruised heel on a pillow.
Take a pain reliever
To ease the discomfort from heel pain, take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, such as:
Protect your heel
Place a cushioning pad or gel insert inside your shoes. Buy new, more shock-absorbing sneakers. Wear shoes that are low-heeled and that fit your foot snugly. Avoid any shoes that don’t provide support or that rub against your heel, like flip-flops.
How is a bruised heel diagnosed?
You might not need to see a doctor for a diagnosis. This is because a bruised heel is often treatable at home. But if your heel pain doesn’t improve with self-care measures, make an appointment with a foot specialist, called a podiatrist.
Your doctor will examine your foot and ankle. You may need an X-ray to check if your heel bone is broken. Your doctor might also check your gait, or the way you walk, to look for any issues that might have caused a bruised heel.
Complications and when to see your doctor
It’s important to rest until your bruised heel is fully recovered. Going back to sports and other activities too soon can interrupt the healing process. Eventually, you can develop scars in your heel that require surgery to correct.
If home treatments don’t work, see a podiatrist. They may recommend custom shoe inserts. If your heel pad is damaged, you might need a surgical procedure to repair it.
See a doctor right away if:
- you’re in a lot of pain
- you have a large purple or dark-colored bruise running across your heel
What’s the outlook?
Heel bruises should get better on their own within a week or two. Resting the heel and taping it up to protect it will help you recover faster.