What Can Cause Painful Heel

Plantar Fasciitis

Overview

Heel pain is the most common musculoskeletal complaint of patients presenting to podiatric practitioners throughout the country. It is well-recognized that subcalcaneal pain syndrome, commonly attributed to plantar fascitis, is a disease entity that is increasing in its incidence, owing partly to the fact that it has a predilection for people between the age of 40 and 60, the largest age segment in our population.




Causes

Training on improper, hard and/or irregular surfaces as well as excessive track work in spiked shoes, or steep hill running, can stress the plantar fascia past its limits of elasticity, leading to injury. Finally, failure in the early season to warm up gradually gives the athlete insufficient time for the structures of the foot to re-acclimate and return to a proper fitness level for intensive exercise. Such unprepared and repeated trauma causes microscopic tearing, which may only be detected once full-blown plantar fasciitis and accompanying pain and debilitation have resulted. If the level of damage to the plantar fascia is significant, an inflammatory reaction of the heel bone can produce spike-like projections of new bone, known as heel spurs. Indeed, plantar fasciitis has occasionally been refereed to as heel spur syndrome, though such spurs are not the cause of the initial pain but are instead a further symptom of the problem. While such spurs are sometimes painless, in other cases they cause pain or disability in the athlete, and surgical intervention to remove them may be required. A dull, intermittent pain in the heel is typical, sometimes progressing to a sharp, sustained discomfort. Commonly, pain is worse in the morning or after sitting, later decreasing as the patient begins walking, though standing or walking for long periods usually brings renewal of the pain.




Symptoms

Pain is the main symptom. This can be anywhere on the underside of your heel. However, commonly, one spot is found as the main source of pain. This is often about 4 cm forward from your heel, and may be tender to touch. The pain is often worst when you take your first steps on getting up in the morning, or after long periods of rest where no weight is placed on your foot. Gentle exercise may ease things a little as the day goes by, but a long walk or being on your feet for a long time often makes the pain worse. Resting your foot usually eases the pain. Sudden stretching of the sole of your foot may make the pain worse, for example, walking up stairs or on tiptoes. You may limp because of pain. Some people have plantar fasciitis in both feet at the same time.




Diagnosis

Your doctor will check your feet and watch you stand and walk. He or she will also ask questions about your past health, including what illnesses or injuries you have had. Your symptoms, such as where the pain is and what time of day your foot hurts most. How active you are and what types of physical activity you do. Your doctor may take an X-ray of your foot if he or she suspects a problem with the bones of your foot, such as a stress fracture.




Non Surgical Treatment

Over-the-counter arch supports may be useful in patients with acute plantar fasciitis and mild pes planus. The support provided by over-the-counter arch supports is highly variable and depends on the material used to make the support. In general, patients should try to find the most dense material that is soft enough to be comfortable to walk on. Over-the-counter arch supports are especially useful in the treatment of adolescents whose rapid foot growth may require a new pair of arch supports once or more per season. Custom orthotics are usually made by taking a plaster cast or an impression of the individual's foot and then constructing an insert specifically designed to control biomechanical risk factors such as pes planus, valgus heel alignment and discrepancies in leg length. For patients with plantar fasciitis, the most common prescription is for semi-rigid, three-quarters to full-length orthotics with longitudinal arch support. Two important characteristics for successful treatment of plantar fasciitis with orthotics are the need to control over-pronation and metatarsal head motion, especially of the first metatarsal head. In one study, orthotics were cited by 27 percent of patients as the best treatment. The main disadvantage of orthotics is the cost, which may range from $75 to $300 or more and which is frequently not covered by health insurance.

Feet Pain




Surgical Treatment

Plantar fasciotomy is often considered after conservative treatment has failed to resolve the issue after six months and is viewed as a last resort. Minimally invasive and endoscopic approaches to plantar fasciotomy exist but require a specialist who is familiar with certain equipment. Heel spur removal during plantar fasciotomy has not been found to improve the surgical outcome. Plantar heel pain may occur for multiple reasons and release of the lateral plantar nerve branch may be performed alongside the plantar fasciotomy in select cases. Possible complications of plantar fasciotomy include nerve injury, instability of the medial longitudinal arch of the foot, fracture of the calcaneus, prolonged recovery time, infection, rupture of the plantar fascia, and failure to improve the pain. Coblation (TOPAZ) surgery has recently been proposed as alternative surgical approaches for the treatment of recalcitrant plantar fasciitis.




Stretching Exercises

Stretching your plantar fasciitis is something you can do at home to relieve pain and speed healing. Ice massage performed three to four times per day in 15 to 20 minute intervals is also something you can do to reduce inflammation and pain. Placing arch supports in your shoes absorbs shock and takes pressure off the plantar fascia.

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