Do You Really Understand Heel Pains?

Overview

Painful Heel

Plantar Fasciitis, also known as Heel Pain or a heel spur, is a musculoskeletal condition causing pain under the heel or into the inner arch of the foot. The condition is commonly mistaken for an impact trauma or heel bruise but in fact it is caused by mechanical overstretching of the fibrous tissue in the arch. Heel pain can develop suddenly or evolve gradually over time. It can affect people of all ages, but is more common beyond the 4th decade of life, those in standing occupations, overweight individuals and those involved in regular strenuous exercise.

Causes

If it hurts under your heel, you may have one or more conditions that inflame the tissues on the bottom of your foot. When you step on a hard object such as a rock or stone, you can bruise the fat pad on the underside of your heel. It may or may not look discolored. The pain goes away gradually with rest. Doing too much running or jumping can inflame the tissue band (fascia) connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes. The pain is centered under your heel and may be mild at first but flares up when you take your first steps after resting overnight. You may need to do special exercises, take medication to reduce swelling and wear a heel pad in your shoe. When plantar fasciitis continues for a long time, a heel spur (calcium deposit) may form where the fascia tissue band connects to your heel bone. Your doctor may take an X-ray to see the bony protrusion. Treatment is usually the same as for plantar fasciitis: rest until the pain subsides, do special stretching exercises and wear heel pad shoe inserts. Having a heel spur may not cause pain and should not be operated on unless symptoms become chronic.

Symptoms

Pain in the heel can be caused by many things. The commonest cause is plantar fascitis. Other causes include, being overweight, constantly being on your feet, especially on a hard surface like concrete and wearing hard-soled footwear, thinning or weakness of the fat pads of the heel, injury to the bones or padding of the heel, arthritis in the ankle or heel (subtalar) joint, irritation of the nerves on the inner or outer sides of the heel, fracture of the heel bone (calcaneum).

Diagnosis

To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment for plantar fasciitis - the vast majority of patients recover with conservative treatments (designed to avoid radical medical therapeutic measures or operative procedures) within months. Heel with ice-pack. Home care such as rest, ice-pack use, proper-fitting footwear and foot supports are often enough to ease heel pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) - medications with analgesic (pain reducing), antipyretic (fever reducing) effects. In higher doses they also have anti-inflammatory effects, they reduce inflammation (swelling). Non-steroidal distinguishes NSAIDs from other drugs which contain steroids, which are also anti-inflammatory. NSAIDs are non-narcotic (they do not induce stupor). For patients with plantar fasciitis they may help with pain and inflammation. Corticosteroids, a corticosteroid solution is applied over the affected area on the skin; an electric current is used to help absorption. Alternatively, the doctor may decide to inject the medication. However, multiple injections may result in a weakened plantar fascia, significantly increasing the risk of rupture and shrinkage of the fat pad covering the heel bone. Some doctors may use ultrasound to help them make sure they have injected in the right place Corticosteroids are usually recommended when NSAIDs have not helped. Physical therapy, a qualified/specialized physical therapist (UK: physiotherapist) can teach the patient exercises which stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon, as well as strengthening the lower leg muscles, resulting in better stabilization of the ankle and heel. The patient may also be taught how to apply athletic taping, which gives the bottom of the foot better support. Night splints, the splint is fitted to the calf and foot; the patient keeps it on during sleep. Overnight the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon are held in a lengthened position; this stretches them. Orthotics, insoles and orthotics (assistive devices) can be useful to correct foot faults, as well as cushioning and cradling the arch during the healing process. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy, sound waves are aimed at the affected area to encourage and stimulate healing. This type of therapy is only recommended for chronic (long-term) cases, which have not responded to conservative therapy.

Surgical Treatment

It is rare to need an operation for heel pain. It would only be offered if all simpler treatments have failed and, in particular, you are a reasonable weight for your height and the stresses on your heel cannot be improved by modifying your activities or footwear. The aim of an operation is to release part of the plantar fascia from the heel bone and reduce the tension in it. Many surgeons would also explore and free the small nerves on the inner side of your heel as these are sometimes trapped by bands of tight tissue. This sort of surgery can be done through a cut about 3cm long on the inner side of your heel. Recently there has been a lot of interest in doing the operation by keyhole surgery, but this has not yet been proven to be effective and safe. Most people who have an operation are better afterwards, but it can take months to get the benefit of the operation and the wound can take a while to heal fully. Tingling or numbness on the side of the heel may occur after operation.

Prevention

Feet Pain

Prevention of heel pain involves reducing the stress on that part of the body. Tips include. Barefeet, when on hard ground make sure you are wearing shoes. Bodyweight, if you are overweight there is more stress on the heels when you walk or run. Try to lose weight. Footwear, footwear that has material which can absorb some of the stress placed on the heel may help protect it. Examples include heel pads. Make sure your shoes fit properly and do not have worn down heels or soles. If you notice a link between a particular pair of shoes and heel pain, stop wearing them. Rest, if you are especially susceptible to heel pain, try to spend more time resting and less time on your feet. It is best to discuss this point with a specialized health care professional. Sports, warm up properly before engaging in activities that may place lots of stress on the heels. Make sure you have proper sports shoes for your task.

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