All You Should Know About Heel Pain

Overview

Heel Pain

The plantar fascia is a thick, ligamentous connective tissue that runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue helps maintain the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. Thus, tremendous stress is placed on the plantar fascia, often leading to plantar fasciitis- a stabbing or burning pain in the heel or arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is particularly common in runners. People who are overweight, women who are pregnant and those who wear shoes with inadequate support are also at a higher risk. Prolonged plantar fasciitis frequently leads to heel spurs, a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone. The heel spur itself is not thought to be the primary cause of Heel Pain, rather inflammation and irritation of the plantar fascia is thought to be the primary problem.

Causes

In the majority of cases, heel pain has a mechanical cause. It may also be caused by arthritis, infection, an autoimmune problem trauma, a neurological problem, or some other systemic condition (condition that affects the whole body).

Symptoms

Usually when a patient comes in they?ll explain that they have severe pain in the heel. It?s usually worse during the first step in the morning when they get out of bed. Many people say if they walk for a period of time, it gets a little bit better. But if they sit down and get back up, the pain will come back and it?s one of those intermittent come and go types of pain. Heel pain patients will say it feels like a toothache in the heel area or even into the arch area. A lot of times it will get better with rest and then it will just come right back. So it?s one of those nuisance type things that just never goes away. The following are common signs of heel pain and plantar fasciitis. Pain that is worse first thing in the morning. Pain that develops after heavy activity or exercise. Pain that occurs when standing up after sitting for a long period of time. Severe, toothache type of pain in the bottom of the heel.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will listen to your complaints about your heel and examine you to see what is causing the pain, and whether anything else has started it off. If the cause of your pain seems obvious, your doctor may be happy to start treatment straight away. However, some tests may be helpful in ruling out other problems. Blood tests may be done for arthritis. An Xray will show any arthritis in the ankle or subtalar joint, as well as any fracture or cyst in the calcaneum. (It will also show a spur if you have one, but as we know this is not the cause of the pain.) Occasionally a scan may be used to help spot arthritis or a stress fracture.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treating plantar fasciitis in the early stages usually allows for a quicker recovery. Left untreated, this condition can progress to the point where there is pain with each and every step. This typically means a return to a pain free day will take much longer. Initial treatments are aimed at reducing stress on the fascia so it can begin to heal. Also, treatment to reduce the associated inflammation is started. These treatments often include: ice therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, stretching exercises, wearing shoes with appropriate support, taping of the foot and the use of a night splint. If these interventions do not lead to a full resolution, custom shoe inserts, cortisone injections and additional treatment by a physical therapist are often utilized. For patients that fail to respond to all of these efforts, surgical release of the plantar fascia can be a very effective course of action. The good news is this: 95% of the time plantar fasciitis can be fully resolved without the need for surgery. High energy shock wave therapy, sometimes referred to as orthotripsy, is a relatively new treatment that has been shown to be effective 70% of the time in patients that continue to have pain despite extensive non-surgical treatment.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery to correct heel pain is generally only recommended if orthotic treatment has failed. There are some exceptions to this course of treatment and it is up to you and your doctor to determine the most appropriate course of treatment. Following surgical treatment to correct heel pain the patient will generally have to continue the use of orthotics. The surgery does not correct the cause of the heel pain. The surgery will eliminate the pain but the process that caused the pain will continue without the use of orthotics. If orthotics have been prescribed prior to surgery they generally do not have to be remade.

Prevention

Heel Discomfort

The following steps will help prevent plantar fasciitis or help keep the condition from getting worse if you already have it. The primary treatment is rest. Cold packs application to the area for 20 minutes several times a day or after activities give some relief. Over-the-counter pain medications can help manage the pain, consult your healthcare professional. Shoes should be well cushioned, especially in the midsole area, and should have the appropriate arch support. Some will benefit from an orthotic shoe insert, such as a rubber heel pad for cushioning. Orthotics should be used in both shoes, even if only one foot hurts. Going barefoot or wearing slipper puts stress on your feet. Put on supportive shoes as soon as you get out of bed. Calf stretches and stretches using a towel (place the towel under the ball of your feet and pull gently the towel toward you and hold a few seconds) several times a day, especially when first getting up in the morning. Stretching the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel is especially important before sports, but it is helpful for nonathletes as well. Increasing your exercise levels gradually. Staying at a healthy weight. Surgery is very rarely required.

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