What Is Painful Heel

Heel Discomfort

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a common, painful foot condition. Patients, and sometimes doctors often confuse the terms plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Plantar fasciitis refers to the syndrome of inflammation of the band of tissue that runs from the heel along the arch of the foot; a heel spur is a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone (calcaneus). About 70% of patients with plantar fasciitis have been noted to have a heel spur that can be seen on x-ray. Plantar fasciitis is most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups. The condition is diagnosed with the classic symptoms of pain well focused deep in the heel area of the bottom of the foot. Often the pain from plantar fasciitis is most severe when you first stand on your feet in the morning. Pain often subsides quite quickly, but then returns after prolonged standing or walking. Plantar fasciitis is sometimes, but not always, associated with a rapid gain of weight. It is also sometimes seen in recreational athletes, especially runners. In these athletes, it is thought that the repetitive nature of the sports causes the damage to the fibrous tissue that forms the arch of the foot.




Causes

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, accounting for around four out of five cases. Plantar fasciitis is when the thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone with the rest of the foot (the plantar fascia) becomes damaged and thickened. Damage to the plantar fascia is thought to occur following sudden damage, for example, damaging your heel while jogging, running or dancing; this type of damage usually affects younger people who are physically active, gradual wear and tear of the tissues that make up the plantar fascia - this usually affects adults who are 40 years of age or over. You are at an increased risk of gradual wear and tear damaging your plantar fasciitis if you are overweight or obese, if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over, you are considered to be obese, have a job that involves spending long periods of time standing, wear flat-soled shoes, such as sandals or flip flops. Less common causes of heel pain are a stress fracture. A stress fracture can occur if your heel bone is damaged during an injury. Fat pad atrophy. Fat pad atrophy is where the layer of fat that lies under the heel bone, known as the fat pad, starts to waste away due to too much strain being placed on the pad. Women who wear high-heeled shoes for many years have an increased risk of developing fat pad atrophy. Bursitis. Bursitis is inflammation of one or more bursa (small fluid-filled sacs under the skin, usually found over the joints and between tendons and bones). It's possible to develop bursitis anywhere inside the body, not just in the foot. Tarsal tunnel syndrome. The nerves in the sole of your foot pass through a small tunnel on the inside of the ankle joint, known as the tarsal tunnel. If a cyst forms or the tunnel is damaged, the nerves can become compressed (squashed). This can cause pain anywhere along the nerve, including beneath your heel. Sever's disease. Sever's disease is a common cause of heel pain in children. It's caused by the muscles and tendons of the hamstrings and calves stretching and tightening in response to growth spurts. The stretching of the calf muscle pulls on the Achilles tendon. This pulls on the growing area of bone at the back of the heel (growth plate), causing pain in the heel. The pain is further aggravated by activities such as football and gymnastics. The pain often develops at the side of the heel, but can also be felt under the heel. Calf and hamstring stretches and, if necessary, heel pads are usually effective treatments for Sever's disease. Bone spurs. Bone spurs are an excess growth of bone that forms on a normal bone. Bone spurs can develop on the heel (a heel spur) and are more common in people with heel pain. However, they can also occur in people without heel pain. A heel spur does not cause heel pain.




Symptoms

Symptoms of the plantar fasciitis include a gradual onset of pain under the heel which may radiate into the foot. Tenderness is usually felt under and on the inside of the heel which is initially worse first in the morning but eases as the foot warms up only to return later in the day or after exercise. Stretching the plantar fascia may be painful.




Diagnosis

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

Most doctors recommend an initial six- to eight-week program of conservative treatment, including Rest, balanced with stretching exercises to lengthen the heel cord and plantar fascia. Ice massage to the bottom of the foot after activities that trigger heel pain. Avoidance of walking barefoot or wearing slippers or sandals that provide little arch support. A temporary switch to swimming and/or bicycling instead of sports that involve running and jumping. Shoes with soft heels and insoles. Taping the bottom of the injured foot. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brand names), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. Physical therapy using ultrasound, electrical stimulation with corticosteroids or massage techniques. If this conservative treatment does not help, your doctor may recommend that you wear a night splint for six to eight weeks. While you sleep, the night splint will keep your foot in a neutral or slightly flexed (bent) position to help maintain the normal stretch of the plantar fascia and heel cord. If the night splint doesn't work, your doctor may inject corticosteroid medication into the painful area or place your foot in a short leg cast for one to three months. Shock wave therapy, in which focused sound energy is applied to the sore heel, may be recommended for plantar fasciitis. The shock waves are intended to irritate or injure the plantar fascia to promote healing. The overall benefit of this approach is uncertain. Other therapies that have been tried include radiation therapy and botulinum toxin injections. But their effectiveness is unclear. If all else fails, your doctor may suggest surgery. But this is rare, and surgery is not always successful.

Plantar Fasciitis




Surgical Treatment

If you consider surgery, your original diagnosis should be confirmed by the surgeon first. In addition, supporting diagnostic evidence (such as nerve-conduction studies) should be gathered to rule out nerve entrapment, particularly of the first branch of the lateral plantar nerve and the medial plantar nerve. Blood tests should consist of an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), rheumatoid factor, human leukocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27), and uric acid. It’s important to understand that surgical treatment of bone spurs rarely improves plantar fasciitis pain. And surgery for plantar fasciitis can cause secondary complications-a troubling condition known as lateral column syndrome.




Stretching Exercises

Calf stretch. Lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and the heel on the ground. Place the other leg in front, with the knee bent. To stretch the calf muscles and the heel cord, push your hips toward the wall in a controlled fashion. Hold the position for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat this exercise 20 times for each foot. A strong pull in the calf should be felt during the stretch. Plantar fascia stretch. This stretch is performed in the seated position. Cross your affected foot over the knee of your other leg. Grasp the toes of your painful foot and slowly pull them toward you in a controlled fashion. If it is difficult to reach your foot, wrap a towel around your big toe to help pull your toes toward you. Place your other hand along the plantar fascia. The fascia should feel like a tight band along the bottom of your foot when stretched. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat it 20 times for each foot. This exercise is best done in the morning before standing or walking.

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