What Is Painful Heel

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot disorder that affects more than two million people every year, especially runners. It is inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot. The most common area of pain is directly on the bottom of the heel, although some people may only have pain in the arch of the foot. Diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is typically done through a physical examination, which includes listening to the patient history, palpation of the heel and possibly x-rays.


Causes

The most common cause of plantar fasciitis relates to faulty structure of the foot. For example, people who have problems with their arches, either overly flat feet or high-arched feet, are more prone to developing plantar fasciitis. Wearing non-supportive footwear on hard, flat surfaces puts abnormal strain on the plantar fascia and can also lead to plantar fasciitis. This is particularly evident when one’s job requires long hours on the feet. Obesity may also contribute to plantar fasciitis.


Symptoms

Heel pain is the most common symptom associated with plantar fasciosis. Your heel pain may be worse in the morning or after you have been sitting or standing for long periods. Pain is most common under your heel bone, but you also may experience pain in your foot arch or on the outside aspect of your foot. Other common signs and symptoms of plantar fasciosis include mild swelling and redness in your affected area, tenderness on the bottom of your heel, impaired ability to ambulate.


Diagnosis

Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by a health care provider after consideration of a person’s presenting history, risk factors, and clinical examination. Tenderness to palpation along the inner aspect of the heel bone on the sole of the foot may be elicited during the physical examination. The foot may have limited dorsiflexion due to tightness of the calf muscles or the Achilles tendon. Dorsiflexion of the foot may elicit the pain due to stretching of the plantar fascia with this motion. Diagnostic imaging studies are not usually needed to diagnose plantar fasciitis. However, in certain cases a physician may decide imaging studies (such as X-rays, diagnostic ultrasound or MRI) are warranted to rule out other serious causes of foot pain. Bilateral heel pain or heel pain in the context of a systemic illness may indicate a need for a more in-depth diagnostic investigation. Lateral view x-rays of the ankle are the recommended first-line imaging modality to assess for other causes of heel pain such as stress fractures or bone spur development. Plantar fascia aponeurosis thickening at the heel greater than 5 millimeters as demonstrated by ultrasound is consistent with a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. An incidental finding associated with this condition is a heel spur, a small bony calcification on the calcaneus (heel bone), which can be found in up to 50% of those with plantar fasciitis. In such cases, it is the underlying plantar fasciitis that produces the heel pain, and not the spur itself. The condition is responsible for the creation of the spur though the clinical significance of heel spurs in plantar fasciitis remains unclear.


Non Surgical Treatment

In the early stages of plantar fasciitis resting the foot may ease the pain. Medication to reduce inflammation should help but should only be used short term. Strapping may temporarily reduce the pain. All of the above therapies are only temporary measures and the pain is likely to reoccur if the cause of the abnormal pressure which has triggered the plantar fasciitis has not been identified. In order to establish the cause of the plantar fasciitis a biomechanical assessment may be required.

Heel Discomfort


Surgical Treatment

The most dramatic therapy, used only in cases where pain is very severe, is surgery. The plantar fascia can be partially detached from the heel bone, but the arch of the foot is weakened and full function may be lost. Another surgery involves lengthening the calf muscle, a process called gastrocnemius recession. If you ignore the condition, you can develop chronic heel pain. This can change the way you walk and cause injury to your legs, knees, hips and back. Steroid injections and some other treatments can weaken the plantar fascia ligament and cause potential rupture of the ligament. Surgery carries the risks of bleeding, infection, and reactions to anesthesia. Plantar fascia detachment can also cause changes in your foot and nerve damage. Gastrocnemius resection can also cause nerve damage.

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