What Is Heel Pain

Plantar Fasciitis

Overview

Plantar fasciitis was previously believed to be inflammation of the fascia near its insertion on the heel bone. The suffix (-itis) means inflammation. Studies, however, reveal that changes in the tissue associated with the injury are degenerative and not related to inflammation, at least not in the way most people typically think of inflammation. Sudden onset of heel pain may indeed be related to acute inflammation. For persistent heel pain the condition more closely resembles long-standing degeneration of the plantar fascia near its attachment than inflammation. This could explain why anti-inflammatory medications and injections have been unsuccessful at treating it. But there is more to heel pain than just the plantar fascia.




Causes

Plantar fasciitis occurs because of irritation to the thick ligamentous connective tissue that runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue contributes to maintaining the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. Therefore, the stress placed on the this tissue is tremendous.




Symptoms

The condition typically starts gradually with mild pain at the heel bone often referred to as a stone bruise. You're more likely to feel it after (not during) exercise. The pain classically occurs right after getting up in the morning and after a period of sitting. If you don't treat plantar fasciitis, it may become a chronic condition. You may not be able to keep up your level of activity, and you may develop symptoms of foot, knee, hip and back problems because plantar fasciitis can change the way you walk.




Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for tenderness in your foot and the exact location of the pain to make sure that it’s not caused by a different foot problem. The doctor may ask you to flex your foot while he or she pushes on the plantar fascia to see if the pain gets worse as you flex and better as you point your toe. Mild redness or swelling will also be noted. Your doctor will evaluate the strength of your muscles and the health of your nerves by checking your reflexes, your muscle tone, your sense of touch and sight, your coordination, and your balance. X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be ordered to check that nothing else is causing your heel pain, such as a bone fracture.




Non Surgical Treatment

Give your painful heel lots of rest. You may need to stay completely off your foot for several days when the pain is severe. Your healthcare provider may recommend or prescribe anti-inflammatory medicines, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. These drugs decrease pain and inflammation. Adults aged 65 years and older should not take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine for more than 7 days without their healthcare provider’s approval. Resting your heel on an ice pack for a few minutes several times a day can also help. Try to cushion your foot. You can do this by wearing athletic shoes, even at work, for awhile. Heel cushions can also be used. The cushions should be worn in both shoes. They are most helpful if you are overweight or an older adult. Your provider may recommend special arch supports or inserts for your shoes called orthotics, either custom-made or off the shelf. These supports can be particularly helpful if you have flat feet or high arches. Your provider may recommend an injection of a cortisone-like medicine. Lose weight if needed. A night splint may be recommended. This will keep the plantar fascia stretched while you are sleeping. Physical therapy for additional treatments may be recommended. Surgery is rarely needed.

Heel Discomfort




Surgical Treatment

Surgery may be considered in very difficult cases. Surgery is usually only advised if your pain has not eased after 12 months despite other treatments. The operation involves separating your plantar fascia from where it connects to the bone; this is called a plantar fascia release. It may also involve removal of a spur on the calcaneum if one is present. Surgery is not always successful. It can cause complications in some people so it should be considered as a last resort. Complications may include infection, increased pain, injury to nearby nerves, or rupture of the plantar fascia.

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