Heel Aches

Overview

Painful Heel

Heel pain is common and can be due to a number of conditions. The calcaneus (heel bone) is the largest bone in the foot and is the first to hit the ground when walking. The heel bone is designed to be the first contact the foot has with the ground. The achilles tendon inserts into the back of the heel bone (calcaneus) and a very strong ligament along the bottom of the foot attaches to the bottom of the heel bone (the plantar fascia). Several small muscles also attach to the heel bone above the insertion of the plantar fascia. Given the forces of walking that the heel bone is subjected to and the pull of all these ligaments and muscles, then it is not surprising that Heel Pain is so common.

Causes

A flattening or overstretching of your plantar fascia can cause microscopic tears, inflammation, and a burning sensation. While developing slowly, there may be a sudden severe event sometimes occurring in only one foot at a time. Plantar Faciitis can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. Some contributing factors include age, weight-bearing activities, sudden increase in physical activity, improper shoes, excess weight or a recent weight gain (as little as 5 pounds), and poor biomechanics (flat feet, high arches or unnatural gait).

Symptoms

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis vary, but the classic symptom is pain after rest–when you first get out of bed in the morning, or when you get up after sitting down for a while during the day. The pain usually diminishes after a few minutes of walking, sometimes even disappearing, but the pain is commonly felt again the longer you’re on the foot. Fasciitis can be aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support, especially in the arch area, and by the chronic irritation of long-periods of standing, especially on concrete, by being overweight. It doesn’t help that fascia doesn’t heal particularly quickly because it has relatively poor circulation (which is why it’s white in colour).

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is generally made during the history and physical examination. There are several conditions that can cause heel pain, and plantar fasciitis must be distinguished from these conditions. Pain can be referred to the heel and foot from other areas of the body such as the low back, hip, knee, and/or ankle. Special tests to challenge these areas are performed to help confirm the problem is truly coming from the plantar fascia. An X-ray may be ordered to rule out a stress fracture of the heel bone and to see if a bone spur is present that is large enough to cause problems. Other helpful imaging studies include bone scans, MRI, and ultrasound. Ultrasonographic exam may be favored as it is quick, less expensive, and does not expose you to radiation. Laboratory investigation may be necessary in some cases to rule out a systemic illness causing the heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Reiter’s syndrome, or ankylosing spondylitis. These are diseases that affect the entire body but may show up at first as pain in the heel.

Non Surgical Treatment

Anti-inflammatory medication. Heel stretching exercise. Ice application to painful area – twice a day or more, for 10 – 15 minutes. Rest. Supportive, well-fitting, padded shoes. Heel cup, felt pads or orthotics. Night splints – stretches injured fascia and allows healing. Basic treatment. First thing in the morning, before getting out of bed — massage the bottom of the affected foot or feet for at least five minutes. Ensure that the plantar is stretched and warmed up so that overnight healing remains intact. Before stepping out of bed, be sure that you have soft, padded, supportive shoes or slippers to wear, especially if your flooring is hard, tile or uncarpeted flooring.

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

Foot Pain

Make sure you wear appropriate supportive shoes. Don’t over-train in sports. Make sure you warm up, cool down and undertake an exercise regime that helps maintain flexibility. Manage your weight, obesity is a factor in causing plantar fasciitis. Avoid walking and running on hard surfaces if you are prone to pain. You should follow the recognized management protocol “RICED” rest, ice, compression, elevation and diagnosis. Rest, keep off the injured ankle as much as possible. Ice, applied for 20 minutes at a time every hour as long as swelling persists. Compression, support the ankle and foot with a firmly (not tightly) wrapped elastic bandage. Elevation, keep foot above heart level to minimize bruising and swelling. Diagnosis. Consult a medical professional (such as a Podiatrist or doctor) especially if you are worried about the injury, or if the pain or swelling gets worse. If the pain or swelling has not gone down significantly within 48 hours, also seek treatment. An accurate diagnosis is essential for proper rehabilitation of moderate to severe injuries.

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