The heel is the first bone to contact the ground when walking and takes the full force of impact and the resulting shock of bearing weight during motion. The primary symptom is pain in the heel area that varies in severity and location. The pain is commonly intense when getting out of bed or a chair. The pain often lessens when walking. The most common cause of Heel Pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a stretching of the plantar fascia, a ligament that runs from the ball of foot through the arch and is attached to the heel. It is that attachment which becomes aggravated and typically causes pain after being on your feet for lengths of time. Abnormal motion of the foot (pronation) is one cause of plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs, which are abnormal bone growths coming off the heel, can also cause heel pain. Other causes include repetitive stress or shock to the heel, standing for prolonged periods or osteoarthritis. To prevent heel pain, always wear properly fitting shoes, place insoles or inserts in your shoes to help control abnormal foot motion, maintain a healthy weight, exercise and do foot stretches as they have been shown to decrease the incidence of heel pain.
Heel pain can have many causes but the vast majority is caused by plantar fasciitis. Plantar means, ?bottom of the foot.? Fascia is a ligament or ?bundle? of ligaments. The plantar fascia is the thick ligament that helps to hold up the foot and provide spring in our step. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia and causes more than 90% of heel pain among adults in the US. Plantar fasciitis can be acute, that is, as simple strain of the ligament but often is chronic, hanging on for months if not years. Why does that happen? The answer is poor foot mechanics, the foot sinking down too far allowing the plantar fascia to overstretch with each step taken.
Initially, this pain may only be present when first standing up after sleeping or sitting. As you walk around, the muscle and tendon loosen and the pain goes away. As this problem progresses, the pain can be present with all standing and walking. You may notice a knot or bump on the back of the heel. Swelling may develop. In some cases, pressure from the back of the shoe causes pain.
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.
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.
Maintaining flexible and strong muscles in your calves, ankles, and feet can help prevent some types of heel pain. Always stretch and warm-up before exercising. Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes with good arch support and cushioning. Make sure there is enough room for your toes.