Understanding Heel Aches

Overview

Feet Pain

Every time you take a step, one of your heels has to support the whole weight of your body. As you move, the load is equal to 20 times your own body weight. The load is softened by a pillow of fat under the heel and a large sinew or ligament (the fibrous tissue that joins muscle and bone together) under the sole of the foot. This sinew is called the plantar fascia and it pulls the heel bone forward (in opposition to the Achilles tendon, which pulls it backwards). If an athlete does not warm up properly or a person with a sedentary job exercises heavily during the weekends, they might overload the muscles of the calf or strain the Achilles tendon, which joins these muscles to the heel bone. When overloaded the tendon becomes tight and painfully inflamed, which places extra strain on the plantar fascia and muscles in the soles of the foot. The strained plantar fascia becomes inflamed and may even develop tiny cracks. This is known as plantar fasciitis. Every time you sit down, sleep or otherwise rest your legs, the muscles of the sole of the foot will contract in an attempt to protect the damaged sinew. The pain in the heel will then no longer be felt. But when you get up again and put weight on the foot, the foot and ankle may feel stiff (because of the inflammation) and the pain will return either at the back of the heel or on the soles of the feet. When you start to move, the plantar fascia may crack even more causing a vicious cycle of damage and Heel Pain. Inflammation at the point where the Achilles tendon (at the back of the heel) or the plantar fascia (under the heel) join the heel bone (a bone known as the Calcaneum) stimulates cells that form bone to deposit bone in this area, eventually leading to the build up of a bony prominence on the heel bone called a calcaneal spur. But it’s not the spur itself that causes the pain. The spur is a sign of chronic inflammation in the connective tissues, which is the result of a prolonged overload. It should also be pointed out that heel spurs can occur on their own, without plantar fasciitis or pain, or may be linked to some types of arthritis (inflammation of the joints). And plantar fasciitis or Achilles tendonitis don’t necessarily lead to spur formation.

Causes

Plantar fasciitis: It is the most common cause of heel pain. In this condition, the pain is more severe in the morning but becomes less painful as the day continues. It occurs due to tiny tears in the plantar fascia.The plantar faschia is a tissue band that connects the bottom of the heel bones to the ball of the foot and is involved in walking and running, giving spring to the step. If left untreated, the symptoms usually worsen and can lead to problems with the knee and hip and can cause back pain due to difficulty walking. Those who frequently stand or walk throughout the day or those who run are most likely to develop plantar fasciitis.

Symptoms

The symptoms of plantar fasciitis are classically pain of a sharp nature which is worse standing first thing in the morning. After a short period of walking the pain usually reduces or disappears, only to return again later in the day. Aggravating times are often after increased activity and rising from sitting. If these are the sort of symptoms you are experiencing then the Heel-Fix Kit ? will be just the treatment your heel is crying out for. Some heel pain is more noticeable at night and at rest. Because plantar fasciitis is a mechanical pathology it is unlikely that this sort of heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis. The most common reason for night heel pain is pressure on your Sciatic nerve causing referred pain in the heel. Back pain is often present as well, but you can get the heel pain with little or no back pain that is caused by nerve irritation in the leg or back. If you get pain in your heels mainly or worse at night please see a clinician as soon as you can to confirm the diagnosis.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will listen to your complaints about your heel and examine you to see what is causing the pain, and whether anything else has started it off. If the cause of your pain seems obvious, your doctor may be happy to start treatment straight away. However, some tests may be helpful in ruling out other problems. Blood tests may be done for arthritis. An Xray will show any arthritis in the ankle or subtalar joint, as well as any fracture or cyst in the calcaneum. (It will also show a spur if you have one, but as we know this is not the cause of the pain.) Occasionally a scan may be used to help spot arthritis or a stress fracture.

Non Surgical Treatment

If pain and other symptoms of inflammation-redness, swelling, heat-persist, you should limit normal daily activities and contact our office, or another doctor of podiatric medicine. Your foot would be examined, and an X-ray may be taken to rule out problems of the bone. Early treatment might involve oral or injectable anti-inflammatory medication, taping, padding, massage, stretching, exercise, shoe recommendations, physiotherapy, over-the-counter shoe inserts or, if the condition is chronic and there is a biomechanical basis to the complaint, orthoses (or orthotic devices) may be used to permanently take strain off the fascia. Only rarely is surgery required for heel pain. If necessary, however, 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.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is a last resort in the treatment of heel pain. Physicians have developed many procedures in the last 100 years to try to cure heel pain. Most procedures that are commonly used today focus on several areas, remove the bone spur (if one is present), release the plantar fascia (plantar fasciotomy), release pressure on the small nerves in the area. Usually the procedure is done through a small incision on the inside edge of the foot, although some surgeons now perform this type of surgery using an endoscope. An endoscope is a tiny TV camera that can be inserted into a joint or under the skin to allow the surgeon to see the structures involved in the surgery. By using the endoscope, a surgeon can complete the surgery with a smaller incision and presumably less damage to normal tissues. It is unclear whether an endoscopic procedure for this condition is better than the traditional small incision. Surgery usually involves identifying the area where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel and releasing the fascia partially from the bone. If a small spur is present this is removed. The small nerves that travel under the plantar fascia are identified and released from anything that seems to be causing pressure on the nerves. This surgery can usually be done on an outpatient basis. This means you can leave the hospital the same day.

Prevention

Painful Heel

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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