Is a Bruised Heel Serious? What You Need to Know

foot with sore heel

A bruised heel, also often called a policeman’s heel, is a fairly common condition that can be painful and annoying. It’s also pretty easy to determine whether you have one or not. In this article we’ll explore what a bruised heel is, some of its causes, as well as how to treat them if you have one yourself!

Key Takeaways:

  • A bruised heel, also known as a fat pad contusion, occurs when there is an injury or damage to the fat pad located under the heel bone.
  • Possible causes of a bruised heel include repetitive stress on the heel, sudden impact or trauma, poor footwear, obesity, aging, and certain medical conditions like plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendinitis.
  • Symptoms of a bruised heel include pain, tenderness, swelling, redness, difficulty walking, stiffness, and reduced range of motion. Seeking medical attention is important to determine the cause and receive appropriate treatment.
  • Differentiating between a bruised heel and plantar fasciitis is important, as they have similar symptoms but require different treatments. A fat pad contusion is a bruise on the fatty cushion under the heel bone, while plantar fasciitis involves irritation and inflammation of the tissue running from the heel to the toes.
  • Although a bruised heel is generally not considered a serious injury, untreated or neglected cases can lead to complications. Proper diagnosis and treatment, including rest, ice, compression, elevation, pain management, physical therapy, and the use of custom orthotics, can aid in the healing process. Recovery usually takes around 2-4 weeks.

What is a bruised heel?

A bruised heel or fat pad contusion is an injury to the fat pad that protects the heel bone from the repeated force of your foot striking the ground.

Bruised heel occurs when there is an injury or damage to the fat pad located under your heel bone. This fat pad acts like a cushion to help absorb shock and protect your heel bone when you walk or run.

The injury can happen when you put too much pressure or force on your heel, such as from running, jumping, or landing hard on your feet.

Fat pad contusions are common in athletes or people who engage in high-impact activities, but they can also occur from wearing unsupportive or ill-fitting shoes or being overweight.

What causes a bruised heel?

Below are some of the possible causes of a bruised heel:

Repetitive stress

A bruised heel can be caused by repetitive impact or stress on the heel, such as running or jumping on hard surfaces. This can lead to irritation and inflammation of the fat pad. If you’re an active person, be sure to wear proper footwear like running shoes with great cushioning and support.

Sudden impact or trauma

A sudden impact or trauma to the heel, such as a fall or being hit by an object, can also cause a bruised heel.

Poor footwear

Wearing everyday shoes or running shoes that don’t provide adequate support or cushioning can put pressure on the heel and cause a bruised heel.


Being overweight or obese can put extra pressure on the heel and lead to a bruised heel.


As a person ages, the fat pad on the heel can naturally wear down, making it more susceptible to injury and trauma.

Certain medical conditions

Conditions such as plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, or heel spurs can also lead to a bruised heel.

Bruised heel symptoms to look out for

The symptoms of a bruised heel can vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms include:

  1. Pain and tenderness in the heel area
  2. Swelling and inflammation around the affected area
  3. Redness or discolouration of the skin
  4. Difficulty walking or putting weight on the affected foot
  5. Stiffness or reduced range of motion in the ankle joint
  6. In severe cases, there may be visible deformity or bone protrusion.

The pain associated with a bruised heel can range from mild to severe, and may worsen with activities such as running, jumping, or standing for extended periods of time. The symptoms may be felt in one or both heels, depending on the underlying cause of the bruising.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention to determine the cause of the bruised heel and to receive appropriate treatment. Ignoring the symptoms or delaying treatment may lead to more serious complications and prolong the healing process.

Bruised Heel vs Plantar Fasciitis

A fat pad contusion and plantar fasciitis are two different conditions that affect the foot, but they can sometimes be confused due to similar symptoms.

A fat pad contusion is like a bruise on the fatty cushion that sits under your heel bone. It’s usually caused by a sudden impact or trauma, like jumping down from a high surface. When you have a fat pad contusion, you’ll likely feel pain and tenderness right under your heel bone.

Plantar fasciitis, on the other hand, is a condition where the thick band of tissue that runs from your heel to your toes becomes irritated and inflamed. It’s usually caused by repetitive stress on the foot, like from running or standing for long periods of time.

With plantar fasciitis, you’ll feel pain and stiffness in your heel and arch, especially when you take your first steps in the morning or after sitting for a while.

Treatment for each condition can be similar, but it’s crucial to get a proper diagnosis from a healthcare professional to ensure you receive the right treatment.

How serious is a bruised heel?

While a bruised heel can be quite painful and uncomfortable, it is generally not considered a serious injury.

Most cases of a bruised heel will heal on their own with conservative treatment, such as rest, ice, compression, and elevation (RICE), and over-the-counter pain medications.

However, if left untreated or if the underlying cause of the bruised heel is not addressed, it can lead to more serious complications.

For example, if the bruising is caused by a stress fracture, ignoring the injury and continuing to put weight on the affected foot can cause the fracture to worsen and lead to more severe pain, swelling, and difficulty walking.

How is a bruised heel diagnosed?

A bruised heel is typically diagnosed through a physical examination. During the exam, we will check for tenderness, swelling, and discolouration in the affected area, and may ask you questions about your symptoms and the circumstances surrounding your injury.

In some cases, imaging studies may be used to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other possible causes of your symptoms. X-rays can help identify any fractures or bone abnormalities, while magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound can provide more detailed images of the soft tissue in and around the heel.

If there is any suspicion of a more serious underlying injury, such as a stress fracture or a tear in the plantar fascia, we may recommend additional testing or refer you to a specialist for further evaluation.

Bruised Heal Treatment Options

The treatment for a bruised heel usually involves a combination of rest, pain management, and self-care measures. Here are some common treatment options:


The first step in treating a bruised heel is to rest the affected foot as much as possible. Avoid any activities that may exacerbate the injury, such as running or jumping.


Applying ice to the affected area can help reduce swelling and inflammation. Use an ice pack wrapped in a towel for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.


Compression can help reduce swelling and provide support to the affected area. You can use a compression bandage or a specialized brace to provide support.


Elevating the affected foot can help reduce swelling and promote healing. Aim to keep your foot elevated above heart level as much as possible.

Pain management

Over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

Physical therapy

In some cases, a healthcare professional may recommend physical therapy to help promote healing and prevent future injuries. Exercises may include stretching, strengthening, and balance training.

Custom orthotics

Custom shoe inserts or orthotics can help support the foot and redistribute pressure away from the affected area, reducing pain and preventing further injury.

How Long Does It Take to Recover From a Bruised Heel?

You can expect to be able to walk on the heel comfortably and pain-free 2-4 weeks after a bruise. The pain will go away within a few days and the bruising should disappear in about a week. Swelling should also subside within this time frame, but it may take longer than other symptoms because there are more blood vessels in your heel than other areas of your body.

How We Can Help

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms or have any concerns about your health, please contact us immediately so we can help.

We specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions that affect the foot and ankle, including bruised heel.

If needed, we’ll perform a thorough examination of your foot, review your medical history, and order imaging studies to determine the extent of your injury and rule out other possible causes of your symptoms.

We can also devise a treatment plan for you and teach you preventive measures to avoid getting foot injuries. Book an appointment or call us if you’re worried about your bruised heel!

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