What Causes Bumps on the Heel?

Sep 28, 2021

Discovering a bump in your heel area – much like discovering a bump anywhere else – can often be a disconcerting experience. Is it something to worry about? Even potentially malignant?

The good news when it comes to bumps on and around the heel is that most of them tend to be harmless in themselves. Even so, anything out of the ordinary is still well worth having checked out to know exactly what you’re dealing with. In many cases, a bump can be a sign of another problem that should be addressed.

We are always more than happy to determine what a heel bump may be and provide treatment – if any is even necessary. There can be several potential causes of bumps, but a few we will go into further here are Achilles tendinopathy, xanthomas, and heel spurs.

Achilles Tendinopathy – A Painful Bumps Above the Heel

A bump above the heel is sometimes a sign of Achilles tendinopathy. This is an overuse injury that causes the Achilles tendon to weaken and develop small tears. Sometimes a hard bump will form in the tendon as the body tries to respond to this damage.

Achilles tendinopathy has similarities to Achilles tendinitis in terms of symptoms, but are different conditions. Tendinitis is simply the inflammation of the tendon, while tendinopathy is a degeneration of the proteins forming the tendon. Tendinopathy tends to take a longer time to recover from; especially if overuse has been present for a long period.

Xanthomas – Soft Bumps on the Achilles Tendon

Small, soft bumps and lumps found along the Achilles tendon may be xanthomas. These are fatty deposits that can build up on the tendon.

A xanthoma tends to be small, but can occasionally grow to an inch or more in diameter. The lumps tend to have defined edges and might appear individually or in a cluster. If you have them on one Achilles tendon, chances are high you will have them on the other as well.

These fatty lumps are not typically sensitive on their own but can be located in areas that become painfully compressed or aggravated by rubbing against shoes or socks. They can also simply not be something you want to see!

Xanthomas tend to develop when the body is having a difficult time processing certain fats. Many underlying conditions might be responsible for this, including high cholesterol, diabetes, and hypothyroidism. Addressing the underlying condition responsible for xanthomas can prevent additional growths from occurring. 

Addressing the original causes of xanthomas will unfortunately not make currently existing lumps go away on their own. We can remove any present xanthomas via minor surgery or laser. 

Bump on the back of heel bone called Haglund's deformity on gray background.

Heel Spurs – Hard Bumps on the Heel Bone

Heel spurs (also known simply as “bone spurs”) are likely the first thing people think of when imagining “heel bumps.” 

Spurs are hard, bony-like protrusions that can develop from the surface of the heel bone due to overstress. Tissues such as a tight Achilles tendon or plantar fascia can pull too hard where each connects to the heel bone, causing the body to deposit calcium in those areas as a response. As more calcium is deposited in this way over time, the growth can build up into a heel spur.

While heel spurs might sound like a big cause of trouble, they are often not. Most people who have heel spurs are not even aware of them because they feel no symptoms whatsoever. We often only find out someone has heel spurs when we find them on an imaging test that was ordered to look for something else!

That said, it is still quite possible that a heel spur can create painful friction against the Achilles tendon or be in places that can cause pinching or discomfort while bearing weight on that area. Over time, such irritation could potentially result in conditions like Achilles tendinitis or bursitis.

However, when persistent heel pain is an issue, it is often the tissue straining against the heel that is at the center of the pain and not a heel spur itself. The heel spurs are a secondary effect in these cases, and often a harmless one. 

Treating the source of the heel pain should help prevent further development of heel spurs. Conservative treatments such as custom orthotics, EPAT, and others are often enough to relieve the strain on the heel bone.

In the case that pain, discomfort, or other symptoms can be directly traced to heel spurs, surgical removal may be necessary to resolve the problem. 

Help for Bumps, Lumps, and Everything In-between

A mystery lump or bump is not a cause for instant panic, but it is something that is best to have examined by a professional.

We have seen many such bumps at our office. Some do not require any action at all. Others clued us into another problem that needed to be addressed. And still, others were direct problems that we were able to effectively treat.

Don’t let any long-term bump or lump anywhere on your feet or ankles go unchecked – especially if it’s causing you pain or discomfort! Schedule an appointment with us by calling our Milford or Hamden offices or by filling out our online contact form