Understanding Heel Pains

Overview

Heel Pain

The most common form of Heel Pain, is pain on the bottom of the heel. It tends to occur for no apparent reason and is often worse when first placing weight on the foot. Patients often complain of pain the first thing in the morning or after getting up to stand after sitting. The pain can be a sharp, searing pain or present as a tearing feeling in the bottom of the heel. As the condition progresses there may be a throbbing pain after getting off your feet or there may be soreness that radiates up the back of the leg. Pain may also radiate into the arch of the foot.

Causes

Plantar Fasciitis is the most common form of heel pain. The tears and inflammation that develop along the plantar fascia ligament result in dull aching pain or a burning sensation along the bottom of the foot. Pain becomes particularly noticeable after periods of rest, such as during the first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning, or after getting up after a prolonged period of sitting. Another common form of heel pain is the development of a heel spur. A heel spur, as mentioned above, is the formation of a bony hook extending from the heel. Typically, these growths develop near the area where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. The repetitive pressure on the plantar fascia that results from stretching excessively away from the heel bone causes a response from our body that delivers calcium to the area. The heel pain that ensues develops from the nerves and sensitive tissue that become irritated when the bone fragment digs into the bottom of the heel. Pain may decrease after walking as the tissue in the heel gets used to the fragment and adjusts around it. However, pain will be particularly problematic following periods of rest. Strained muscle tissue may cause heel pain in several areas. A tight plantar fascia causes additional tension, particularly while exercising, placing runners and other athletes at risk if the ligament is not properly warmed up prior to exercise. Additionally, a tight Achilles tendon along the back of the foot can also add tension along the plantar fascia, resulting in possible damage, not to mention the damage and pain that can occur along the Achilles tendon itself (Achilles tendonitis). It is recommended that athletes properly stretch the foot as well as the calf in order to reduce tension on muscle and other tissue in the foot.

Symptoms

The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain along the inside edge of the heel near the arch of the foot. The pain is worse when weight is placed on the foot especially after a long period of rest or inactivity. This is usually most pronounced in the morning when the foot is first placed on the floor. This symptom called first-step pain is typical of plantar fasciitis. Prolonged standing can also increase the painful symptoms. It may feel better after activity but most patients report increased pain by the end of the day. Pressing on this part of the heel causes tenderness. Pulling the toes back toward the face can be very painful.

Diagnosis

Depending on the condition, the cause of heel pain is diagnosed using a number of tests, including medical history, physical examination, including examination of joints and muscles of the foot and leg, X-rays.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment of heel pain generally occurs in stages. At the earliest sign of heel pain, aggressive calf muscle stretching should be started. Additionally, taking an oral anti-inflammatory medication and over-the- counter arch supports or heel cushions may be beneficial. The next phase of treatment might consist of continued calf muscle stretching exercises, cortisone injections and orthopedic taping of the foot to support the arch. If this treatment fails, or if there is reoccurrence of the heel pain, then functional foot orthotics might be considered. A functional orthotic is a device that is prescribed and fitted by your foot doctor, which fits in normal shoes like an arch support. Unlike an arch support, however the orthotic corrects abnormal pronation of the subtalar joint. Thus orthotics address the cause of the heel pain - abnormal pronation of the foot. Pump bump, treatment is similar to the treatment of bursitis and heel spurs. In rare cases, the bony growth at the heel may need to be removed surgically. Heel bruises can be treated by applying an ice pack for the first few minutes after injury. Achilles tendonitis, this condition is treated conservatively with rest, NSAIDs and physical therapy. If a sprain, fracture or other injury has caused the trapped nerve, this underlying problem must be treated first. In rare cases, surgery may be done to release the trapped nerve.

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

A variety of steps can be taken to avoid heel pain and accompanying afflictions. Wear shoes that fit well-front, back, and sides-and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid shanks, and supportive heel counters. Wear the proper shoes for each activity. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm up and do stretching exercises before and after running. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. Don't underestimate your body's need for rest and good nutrition. If obese, lose weight.

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