Heel Aches

Overview

Heel Pain

Heel pain is a common symptom that has many possible causes. Although Heel Pain sometimes is caused by a systemic (body-wide) illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout, it usually is a local condition that affects only the foot.

Causes

Heel pain has a number of causes that are typically associated with overuse of the heel bone. You can strain your heel by pounding your feet on hard surfaces, being overweight, or wearing shoes that do not fit properly. These strains can irritate the heel?s bones, muscles, or tendons. Other common causes of heel pain include the following. Heel Spurs. Heel spurs develop when the lining that covers the heel is continuously stretched. When this occurs, pieces of the lining may break off. Heel spurs typically develop in athletes who frequently run or jog. They are also common in people who are obese. Plantar Fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis develops when the tissue connecting the heel to the ball of the foot becomes inflamed. Plantar fasciitis also occurs in athletes who frequently run or jog. It can also result from wearing shoes that do not fit properly. Excessive Pronation. Excessive pronation occurs when the ligaments and tendons at the back of the heel are stretched too much. This condition can occur when injuries to the back, hips, or knees change the way you walk. Achilles Tendinitis. Achilles tendinitis can occur when the Achilles tendon, which runs along the back of the heel, becomes inflamed. This condition is common in people with active lifestyles who frequently run and jog, professional athletes and dancers.

Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis is a condition of irritation to the plantar fascia, the thick ligament on the bottom of your foot. It classically causes pain and stiffness on the bottom of your heel and feels worse in the morning with the first steps out of bed and also in the beginning of an activity after a period of rest. For instance, after driving a car, people feel pain when they first get out, or runners will feel discomfort for the first few minutes of their run. This occurs because the plantar fascia is not well supplied by blood, which makes this condition slow in healing, and a certain amount of activity is needed to get the area to warm up. Plantar fasciitis can occur for various reasons: use of improper, non-supportive shoes; over-training in sports; lack of flexibility; weight gain; prolonged standing; and, interestingly, prolonged bed rest.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is generally made during the history and physical examination. There are several conditions that can cause heel pain, and plantar fasciitis must be distinguished from these conditions. Pain can be referred to the heel and foot from other areas of the body such as the low back, hip, knee, and/or ankle. Special tests to challenge these areas are performed to help confirm the problem is truly coming from the plantar fascia. An X-ray may be ordered to rule out a stress fracture of the heel bone and to see if a bone spur is present that is large enough to cause problems. Other helpful imaging studies include bone scans, MRI, and ultrasound. Ultrasonographic exam may be favored as it is quick, less expensive, and does not expose you to radiation. Laboratory investigation may be necessary in some cases to rule out a systemic illness causing the heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Reiter's syndrome, or ankylosing spondylitis. These are diseases that affect the entire body but may show up at first as pain in the heel.

Non Surgical Treatment

Most heel pain is caused by a combination of poor biomechanics, or muscle weakness or tightness. The good news is that heel pain can be effectively managed once the cause is identified. Most heel pain can be successfully treated via pain and pressure relief techniques, biomechanical correction eg orthotics, taping, foot posture exercises, muscle stretches and massage, lower limb muscle strengthening, proprioceptive and balance exercises to stimulate your foot intrinsic muscles. If you feel that your footwear or sports training schedule are potentially causing your heel pain, then we recommend that you seek the advice of a sports physiotherapist, podiatrist or trained footwear specialist (not just a shop assistant) to see if your shoe is a match for your foot; or discuss your training regime to see if you are doing too much. Heel pain and injury are extremely common. With accurate assessment and early treatment most heel pain injuries respond extremely quickly to physiotherapy allowing you to quickly resume pain-free and normal activities of daily living. Please ask you physiotherapist for their professional treatment advice.

Surgical Treatment

If treatment hasn't worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery - where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.

Prevention

Feet Pain

Wear shoes that fit well, front, back and sides and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid uppers and supportive heel counters. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm-up before running or walking, and do some stretching exercises afterward. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. If overweight, try non weight-bearing activities such as swimming or cycling. Your podiatrist may also use taping or strapping to provide extra support for your foot. Orthoses (shoe inserts) specifically made to suit your needs may be also be prescribed.

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