Fixing a Broken Heel
Posted by Jenn F. on Tuesday, June 5th, 2012
If you’re a woman, you very likely have experienced a broken heel. You know what happens–you’re dressed up in your good heels for some important occasion and bang! You stumble, look down, and realize that the heel of your shoe is broken. Now unless you were savvy enough to pack a spare pair of flats or find yourself right outside a shoe repair store, you have to stagger to your important occasion (and trust me, this only happens when you’ve got something big going on, like a job interview, major conference, audition, or when you’re touring the world) either barefoot or on one heeled shoe and one unheeled shoe. Seriously, this happens to everyone.
That’s one kind of broken heel. It’s annoying and inconvenient but usually just a momentary crisis. A calcaneal fracture, though, where your actual heel bone is broken, is not a momentary crisis; rather, it’s a very serious injury.
Help! Tell me about this very serious injury! What exactly is it? It’s, well, a broken heel. Your foot is composed of many bones, but the calcaneous is one of the largest. It’s the big chunky bone under that nice cushy fatty pad on your heel. Like anything, if it undergoes any kind of trauma, it breaks.
What kind of trauma? Real, genuine trauma. You don’t break your heel by stepping off a curb hard. Instead, a broken heel is usually the result of a fall from a significant height, or a major collision, like a car accident. Fractured heel bones are not common.
Oh. Yes. Before we deal with the broken heel, we have to make sure you’re, like, alive and that any life-threatening injuries are being treated.
Well, let’s say that I’m alive and not suffering from internal bleeding. How do I know I have a broken heel? Well, the obvious answer is something like, “I just fell out of a fourth story window and landed on my feet” or “I barely escaped with my life from a car crash but something heavy landed on my foot.” However, athletes who pound their feet a lot can develop stress fractures in their heels, and you can also have a minor stress fracture, as in, “I just walked away from a car crash and I have a little pain in my heel, but who cares, I just walked away from a car crash!!!”
The most common symptoms of a heel fracture are heel pain, bruising, swelling, and, depending on the break, a deformed appearance of the heel. If it’s a minor fracture or stress fracture, you may be able to walk on it, but you’ll probably be limping. In short, if you have any kind of heel pain, particularly around the time of some kind of event that put undue stress on your heel, you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to get an accurate diagnosis.
Okay, let’s pretend–and put an emphasize on “pretend”–that I have a broken heel, or fractured calcaneous. What happens now? If the bone has remained in one place and the skin isn’t broken, then treatment is relatively simple (though certainly not pleasant). Your foot will be immobilized in a cast for about 6-8 weeks, and then there will be another three months where you’ll have to avoid putting weight on it.
If, however, the skin did break and/or pieces of broken bone have been knocked out of place, then you’ll need surgery. Open fractures, where the bone is exposed through broken skin, need immediate surgery to close up the wound. If the skin didn’t break, though, a podiatric surgeon will likely recommend a wait of a few days to let the swelling around the injury go down. Surgical procedures usually involve putting in screws or plates to hold the bones in place.
After everything is healed, you will likely be sent to physical therapy to help restore strength and full mobility to your foot. However, long after the bone is healed, some patients may still find they have pain in the heel area or that the injury may have caused an alteration in the way they walk, especially on uneven surfaces. If that occurs, a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) may recommend shoe inserts like a heel pad or lift to help make walking easier.
We certainly hope you never find yourself in a situation where you might have fractured your heel. However, if you suspect you have a heel fracture or are experiencing any other kind of heel pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, and Dr. Ryan Minara have helped thousands of people get back on their feet.
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.