Heel pain can vary from moderate to severe pain that can make walking and daily tasks a chore if not treated. There are a number of different conditions which can cause Heel Pain so it is important that your heel is properly assessed and diagnosed by a Podiatrist. The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. This is where the tissue becomes inflamed at the heel bone or along sole of the foot between the heel and toe. Another condition commonly referred to as a heel spur can also cause pain in the heel. A heel spur is when a spike of bone has been pulled away from the heel bone, where the plantar fascia inserts, causing pain in the area directly under the heel on direct pressure.
There are many possible causes of heel pain. Most commonly it is a chronic, long-term pain that results of some type of faulty biomechanics (abnormalities in the way you walk) that place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues that attach to it. Chronic pain is a common result of standing or walking too many hours in the course of a day, working on concrete, being overweight, wearing poorly-constructed shoes, having an overly-pronated foot type (where the arch collapses excessively) or the opposite–having too high an arch. Women seem to get this slightly more often than men, and while any age can be affected, it usually occurs between 30 and 50 years of age. The other type of heel pain is the sort you get from an acute injury–a bruise to the bone or soft tissue strain resulting from a strenuous activity, like walking, running, or jumping, or from some degree of trauma. While there are dozens of possible causes to heel pain, I will review some of the more common causes. Arch Pain/Plantar Fasciitis. One of those often-painful soft tissue that attaches to heel spurs at the bottom of the foot is called “plantar fascia”. Fascia, located throughout the body, is a fibrous connective tissue similar to a ligament. You can see fascia as some of that white, connective tissue attaching to bones, when you pull apart meat. The “plantar” fascia in our bodies is that fascia which is seen on the bottom (or plantar portion) of the foot, extending from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. Compared to other fascia around the body, plantar fascia is very thick and very strong. It has to be strong because of the tremendous amount of force it must endure when you walk, run or jump. But while the plantar fascia is a strong structure, it can still get injured, most commonly when it is stretched beyond its normal length over long periods of time. Plantar Fascitis. When plantar fascia is injured, the condition is called “plantar fasciitis”, pronounced “plan-tar fash-I-tis”. (Adding “-itis” to the end of a word means that structure is inflamed.) It is sometimes known more simply as ‘fasciitis’. Plantar fasciitis is the most common type of arch pain. Symptoms of plantar fasciitis may occur anywhere along the arch, but it is most common near its attachment to the heel bone.
Pain typically comes on gradually, with no injury to the affected area. It is frequently triggered by wearing a flat shoe, such as flip-flop sandals. Flat footwear may stretch the plantar fascia to such an extent that the area becomes swollen (inflamed). In most cases, the pain is under the foot, toward the front of the heel. Post-static dyskinesia (pain after rest) symptoms tend to be worse just after getting out of bed in the morning, and after a period of rest during the day. After a bit of activity symptoms often improve a bit. However, they may worsen again toward the end of the day.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.
Non Surgical Treatment
If pain and other symptoms of inflammation?redness, swelling, heat?persist, you should limit normal daily activities and contact a doctor of podiatric medicine. The podiatric physician will examine the area and may perform diagnostic X-rays to rule out problems of the bone. Early treatment might involve oral or injectable anti-inflammatory medication, exercise and shoe recommendations, taping or strapping, or use of shoe inserts or orthotic devices. Taping or strapping supports the foot, placing stressed muscles and tendons in a physiologically restful state. Physical therapy may be used in conjunction with such treatments. A functional orthotic device may be prescribed for correcting biomechanical imbalance, controlling excessive pronation, and supporting of the ligaments and tendons attaching to the heel bone. It will effectively treat the majority of heel and arch pain without the need for surgery. Only a relatively few cases of heel pain require more advanced treatments or surgery. If surgery is necessary, it may involve the release of the plantar fascia, removal of a spur, removal of a bursa, or removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.
Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST) is a fairly new type of non-invasive treatment. Non-invasive means it does not involve making cuts into your body. EST involves using a device to deliver high-energy soundwaves into your heel. The soundwaves can sometimes cause pain, so a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your heel. It is claimed that EST works in two ways. It is thought to have a “numbing” effect on the nerves that transmit pain signals to your brain, help stimulate and speed up the healing process. However, these claims have not yet been definitively proven. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance about the use of EST for treating plantar fasciitis. NICE states there are no concerns over the safety of EST, but there are uncertainties about how effective the procedure is for treating heel pain. Some studies have reported that EST is more effective than surgery and other non-surgical treatments, while other studies found the procedure to be no better than a placebo (sham treatment).
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.