What Brings About Heel Pain

Plantar Fasciitis

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a condition characterised by damage and inflammation to the plantar fascia (i.e. the connective tissue on the sole of the foot forming the inner arch. This usually occurs at the attachment of the plantar fascia to the heel bone. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain seen in clinical practice. During walking or running, tension is placed through the plantar fascia. When this tension is excessive (often due to poor foot biomechanics such as flat feet or if it is too repetitive or forceful, damage to the plantar fascia can occur. Plantar fasciitis is a condition where there is damage to the plantar fascia with subsequent inflammation and degeneration. This may occur traumatically due to a high force going through the plantar fascia beyond what it can withstand or, more commonly, due to gradual wear and tear associated with overuse. Occasionally, a heel spur may develop in association with plantar fasciitis.


Causes

Training on improper, hard and/or irregular surfaces as well as excessive track work in spiked shoes, or steep hill running, can stress the plantar fascia past its limits of elasticity, leading to injury. Finally, failure in the early season to warm up gradually gives the athlete insufficient time for the structures of the foot to re-acclimate and return to a proper fitness level for intensive exercise. Such unprepared and repeated trauma causes microscopic tearing, which may only be detected once full-blown plantar fasciitis and accompanying pain and debilitation have resulted. If the level of damage to the plantar fascia is significant, an inflammatory reaction of the heel bone can produce spike-like projections of new bone, known as heel spurs. Indeed, plantar fasciitis has occasionally been refereed to as heel spur syndrome, though such spurs are not the cause of the initial pain but are instead a further symptom of the problem. While such spurs are sometimes painless, in other cases they cause pain or disability in the athlete, and surgical intervention to remove them may be required. A dull, intermittent pain in the heel is typical, sometimes progressing to a sharp, sustained discomfort. Commonly, pain is worse in the morning or after sitting, later decreasing as the patient begins walking, though standing or walking for long periods usually brings renewal of the pain.


Symptoms

The major complaint of those with plantar fasciitis is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. This develops gradually over time. It usually affects just one foot, but can affect both feet. Some people describe the pain as dull, while others experience a sharp pain, and some feel a burning or ache on the bottom of the foot extending outward from the heel. The pain is usually worse in the morning when you take your first steps out of bed, or if you’ve been sitting or lying down for a while. Climbing stairs can be very difficult due to the heel stiffness. After prolonged activity, the pain can flare-up due to increased inflammation. Pain is not usually felt during the activity, but rather just after stopping.


Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor checks for points of tenderness in your foot. The location of your pain can help determine its cause. Usually no tests are necessary. The diagnosis is made based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally your doctor may suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn’t being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve. Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.


Non Surgical Treatment

There are several things you can do to self-treat your heel or arch pain. The first thing is to wear better shoes and consider adding arch supports or custom foot orthotics to your shoes. Stretching the calf muscles can also often be helpful. Try to stretch when you first get up in the morning and before you go to bed at night. Another good exercise is to “roll” your arch and heel. This is done by placing a tennis ball, golf ball, or lacrosse ball on the floor and rolling your foot on top of it. Some people get extra benefit by “rolling” on a frozen water bottle. You should also carefully evaluate your fitness program as you may be overdoing it. You may want consider backing of new or recently added exercises or increases in training until your heel pain improves. If you work at a standing job try to take more time to walk around during the day and avoid standing in one place for too long.

Plantar Fasciitis


Surgical Treatment

More invasive procedures to treat plantar fasciitis are usually sought only after other treatment has failed to produce favorable results. Corticosteroid injections deliver medicine into the injured fascia to reduce pain. However, this treatment may weaken the plantar fascia and result in further damage. In addition, extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is a treatment where sound waves are sent through the damaged tissue in order to stimulate the damaged tissue and encourage healing. This method is relatively new in treating plantar fasciitis and your doctor will be able to tell you if it is the right method for you. Lastly, surgery is the last option for those suffering from chronic or severe plantar fasciitis.

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