What Can Cause Heel Ache

Overview

Foot Pain

The plantar fascia is a thick, ligamentous connective tissue that runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue helps maintain the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. Thus, tremendous stress is placed on the plantar fascia, often leading to plantar fasciitis- a stabbing or burning pain in the heel or arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is particularly common in runners. People who are overweight, women who are pregnant and those who wear shoes with inadequate support are also at a higher risk. Prolonged plantar fasciitis frequently leads to heel spurs, a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone. The heel spur itself is not thought to be the primary cause of Heel Pain, rather inflammation and irritation of the plantar fascia is thought to be the primary problem.

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 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.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as have you had this type of heel pain before? When did your pain begin? Do you have pain upon your first steps in the morning or after your first steps after rest? Is the pain dull and aching or sharp and stabbing? Is it worse after exercise? Is it worse when standing? Did you fall or twist your ankle recently? Are you a runner? If so, how far and how often do you run? Do you walk or stand for long periods of time? What kind of shoes do you wear? Do you have any other symptoms? Your doctor may order a foot x-ray. You may need to see a physical therapist to learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your foot. Your doctor may recommend a night splint to help stretch your foot. Surgery may be recommended in some cases.

Non Surgical Treatment

Physical medicine modalities are well known for their benefits and they have been consistently applied in early treatment of plantar fasciitis. Typically, the direct application of ice, ice baths or contrast soaking aid in the local reduction of inflammation and temporarily augment pain management. Electric stimulation may only provide indirect reduction of interstitial inflammation of the plantar fascia. Ultrasound therapy, hot pack systems and deep tissue massage help eliminate inflammation and aid in restoring plantar fascia tensegrity. Generally, these modalities are considered to be valuable adjuncts to a well-organised treatment plan. Various programs of stretching, range of motion and therapeutic exercises can help re-establish foot function and improve tolerance to load. When it is done appropriately, stretching can serve as an important adjunct to the resumption of the plantar fascia?s ability to tolerate eccentric loading forces that typically occur during stance and gait. Night splinting has proven to be an effective tool in managing persistent plantar fasciitis. Antiinflammatory modalities, such as ice and ice baths, are often the first line of treatment. Oral NSAIDs have been a mainstay of treatment. While they effectively relieve symptoms, be aware that they frequently fail to promote sustained relief. When inflammation is severe or fails to respond to initial efforts, one may consider corticosteroid injection(s). However, keep in mind that corticosteroid injections impose the risk of aponeurosis rupture secondary to focal collagen tissue necrosis and can result in focal heel fat pad atrophy.

Surgical Treatment

Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.

Prevention

Feet Pain

You can reduce the risk of heel pain in many ways, including. Wear shoes that fit you properly with a firm fastening, such as laces. Choose shoes with shock-absorbent soles and supportive heels. Repair or throw out any shoes that have worn heels. Always warm up and cool down when exercising or playing sport, include plenty of slow, sustained stretches. If necessary, your podiatrist will show you how to tape or strap your feet to help support the muscles and ligaments. Shoe inserts (orthoses) professionally fitted by your podiatrist can help support your feet in the long term.

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