Pounding the pavement (or a similarly hard surface) is often a sizable part of an athlete’s training, and as a result, the heels of the feet take plenty of abuse, bearing the weight of the entire body. Unfortunately, the heel is protected only by a small pad of fat, and repetitively landing on the heels can cause this pad to ride up on the side of the heel bone, leaving it unprotected.
Not surprisingly, this causes pain in the heel. You might also notice bruising or dark spots on the bottom of your heel; those are due to capillaries that have ruptured because they are no longer protected by the fat pad that is normally on the underside of your heel.
Athletes most at risk of a bruised heel are those who put repeated strain on their heels, such as from high-impact activities like martial arts, basketball, football and running. A bruised heel likely will heal on its own; you should rest until your heel no longer feels painful. Also, if you’ve run more than about 400 miles in your running or athletic shoes, replace them to make sure your heels are getting the cushioning you need. If your shoes aren’t old enough to warrant replacement, add heel cushions to your shoes to pad your heels.
If the pain doesn’t dissipate after a few days, or if you think your heel pain might be due to another condition, such as plantar fasciitis, see a doctor. He or she can diagnose the cause of your heel pain and help you get back on your feet as soon as possible.