by Liam S.
For more than 30 years, I have been having issues with deep heel itching. I would like to share my journey how I got rid of this weird and mysterious issue that no doctor was able to help me with.
If you have following symptoms, than you might be in the same dilemma like I had been:
- Irresistible itch on the heel, mostly on one foot, sometimes both heels
- Anti-Inflammatory creams, anti-fungal creams and anti-itching don’t help or provide only a temporary relief
- Itching feels like it comes from inside the heel rather than on the surface
- Doesn’t disappear and stays with the patient for 5, 10, 30 years and longer — sometimes rests for years and comes back
- Patients feel the need to use this or a similar Callus Remover to peel off the callus round the heel to get closer to the itch
- Often appears before sleep or during the night — sometimes causing sleep disorders due to pain or heavy itching
- Feeling pulse sensation around the heel
- Feeling heat sensation and sometimes pain on the surface of the heel
- Rubbing the heel to a surface (warming it up) causes a temporary relief
If you associate yourself with one or more of these symptoms, you might have one of the rare but harmless conditions called Pruritus Calcaneus. Assumably it is a bacterial infection that can go as deep as up to the Calcaneus (heel bone).
So far I was able to find out that Pruritus Calcaneus is a harmless infection and would cause no dangerous side effects, it’s not contagious, but it is very annoying for those who have to endure it.
Since it’s hard to detect, it is also misdiagnosed in my opinion. Below are some common misdiagnoses I had to endure over the course of my research and would like to share with you.
Deep Heel Itching is mistaken for other diseases since none of the dermatologists I visited were able to find any inflammation or other irritations on the surface of the my heel skin. Due to no findings, I was sent to a neurologist who in my opinion mistakenly diagnosed a nerve damage and also pointed the source to back issues. Below are typical diagnoses that are I think are not associated with and are not the source of Deep Heel Itching:
- Back Pain
Suffering from back pain can mistakenly associate the deep heel itching with their back problems, because itching of the foot are often associated with nerve issues on the back.
- Sciatic Nerve and Spine-Health related problems
A very common mistake to make, because the nerve roots in the spine can lead to numbness, tingling, burning, and prickling sensation in the legs and the feet, known as Sciatica Symptoms.
A variety of lower back problems can lead to pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve. Most often, sciatica pain is caused when the L5 or S1 nerve root in the lower spine is irritated by a herniated disc. The nerve roots that exit the spine to form the sciatic nerve are extremely sensitive, and the inner portion of the disc that may herniate or extrude contains proteins that are inflammatory and easily irritate the nerve.
- Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar Fasciitis is a band issue that connects the heel bone with the toes. It has nothing to do with patients who have itching problems on their heel or heels.
- Athlete’s Foot
Not only the heel is rarely infected by tinea pedis, patients with deep heel itching do not show any signs of a fungal infection, also antifungal medications provide no help or relief.
- Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome
Both, Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome (TTS) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome are wrongly associated with Deep Heel Itching. Especially TTS (also known as posterior tibial neuralgia) since it’s foot related.
- Bone Spur (Osteophyte)
Osteophyte is the formation of the bone causing many problems, but very seldom the symptoms described above.
- Multiple Sclerosis
This is a very scary diagnosis; however deep heel itching has nothing to do with MS.
- Neuropathic or Chronic Itch
Since many patience experience the same symptoms on the exact same location, the source of the problem can’t be a chronic itch caused by a dysfunction of the itch-sending neurons causing a sensory hallucination of pruritogenic stimuli.
The deep heel itching as far as I could find out is assumable caused by a developed type of the bacteria causing an infection around the heel. Since the bacteria might be nesting in the callus of the heel, it makes the diagnosis very difficult. It is suggested that the bacteria type is Actinomyces. They are known to cause problems in ENT areas, and especially intestines, which explains why doctors are hesitant to associate deep heel itching with it, or do not see a connection.
Actinomyces species are anaerobic bacteria and they can flourish deep under body tissues such as inside the callus, on the heel skin, where even oxygen levels are very low. In case of deep heel itching, the bacteria rests on the callus first, and works its way to the skin.
Once infected and nested, the bacteria usually spreads to other parts of the foot. It seems that the heel and dry skin around the foot provides exactly what the bacteria needs to settle down and live for even decades. From what I could tell, other than severe itching and sometimes pain, the infection is harmless.
Due to its strong persistence to short-time antibiotic treatments, Pruritus Calcaneus is hard to get rid of with antibiotics. Also, antibiotic and other forms of oral treatments would in my opinion not able penetrate the callus which is nothing but dead skin.
A recent study in 2016 researched the resistance patterns of the Actinomyces species as former studies could not provide enough information on the antimicrobial resistance of the Actinomyces bacteria. However, these kinds of treatments are recommended for severe infections with Actinomyces such as in the intestines, face and mouth. It’s not recommended to treat Pruritus Calcaneus with antibiotics as it seems unnecessary and excessive to expose oneself to the side effects of a long-term antibiotic treatment because of a harmless, nonetheless annoying itching sensation.
The way to get rid of the allegedly identified Actinomyces I could so far find was to apply Melaleuca Alternifolia — I’ll explain why: Actinomyces is in fact a tropical bacterium and was often classified as fungus due to its very similar behavior and conduct on the human body. In my research I could find a very close connection between Melaleuca Alternifolia and Actinomyces. Especially in tropical areas such as Australia, Melaleuca Alternifolia was used by indigenous people to treat many diseases long before bacterial research was conducted in modern societies. Melaleuca Alternifolia is known for its very strong antimicrobial properties as it is composed of terpene hydrocarbons, sesquiterpenes, and alcohols which penetrates skin layers.
The following treatment helped me to get rid of the deep heel itching:
I used this Callus Remover on the heel to get closer to the source of the bacteria as I had identified for myself through years of self-diagnosis and research.
Melaleuca Alternifolia (known as Tea Tree Oil or TTO) can be applied 2 hours before sleep time around the itching area. It is very important to get rid of the dead skin first thoroughly. The callus is often the cause of the infection and needs to be removed on continuous basis. That will prevent the bacteria from multiplying back.
You can buy the callus remover from sunmark. Even though Amazon has some similar looking ones, I recommend the sunmark brand shown right as they are very sharp. If you live in the United States, some CVS and Rite Aid stores have them as well.
If you live in Germany, the recommended brand is Credo — their blades are made in Solingen.
However, I switched to Heel Huggers as the heel cups seem to dissolve when they got in touch with the TTO. The product below was more promising:
As I said, Amazon sells the silicon heel cups, but the tea tree oil is corrosive and will penetrate the silicon. The neoprene based Heel Huggers that keep the tree tea oil inside. I have also read that some people simply use socks. However, socks might not have the same effect as the fabric will in my opinion such in the TTO.
What It Does
The heel hugger conserves the tea tree oil on the surface of the heel and helps to penetrate the skin. Once in contact with the infected area, TTO it seems slowly kills the Actinomyces over the next weeks since Actinomyces are assumable extremely sensitive to Monoterpenes which is the ingredient of TTO. I did this for for 6 weeks, even when I felt relief after a couple days. In myc ase, symptoms such as pain, heat and itching on the heel had disappeared within days.
When it comes to Tee Tree Oil, I wanted to make sure that it has the highest amount of monoterpenes and alcohol. Not all Tree Tea Oils provide that, like the ones from Walmart, CVS. They come very cheap, but are not as effective (some have low concentration of progesterone — but you need a high concentration of progesterone to get rid of the cause of deep heel itching which I have identified as Actinomyces). I had good results with the product above.
Itching is gone? Keep it that way!
The cause of the problem after years of trouble is the callus and dry feet in my opinion. I started to remove the callus constantly and did not allow it to grow back. I also used strong foot cream to prevent any type of callus to grow on my feet ever again. Sometimes the itching sensation comes back, and I immediately apply TTO again.
I also want to thank the user comments that helped me to improve my healing method and update my article accordingly over the past few years .