Heel pain is a very common foot problem. The sufferer usually feels pain either under the heel (planter fasciitis) or just behind it (Achilles tendinitis), where the Achilles tendon connects to the heel bone. Even though heel pain can be severe and sometimes disabling, it is rarely a health threat. Heel pain is typically mild and usually disappears on its own; however, in some cases the pain may persist and become chronic (long-term). There are 26 bones in the human foot, of which the heel (calcaneus) is the largest. The human heel is designed to provide a rigid support for the weight of the body. When we are walking or running it absorbs the impact of the foot when it hits the ground, and springs us forward into our next stride. Experts say that the stress placed on a foot when walking may be 1.25 times our body weight, and 2.75 times when running. Consequently, the heel is vulnerable to damage, and ultimately pain.
There are many possible causes of heel pain. Most commonly it is a chronic, long-term pain that results of some type of faulty biomechanics (abnormalities in the way you walk) that place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues that attach to it. Chronic pain is a common result of standing or walking too many hours in the course of a day, working on concrete, being overweight, wearing poorly-constructed shoes, having an overly-pronated foot type (where the arch collapses excessively) or the opposite--having too high an arch. Women seem to get this slightly more often than men, and while any age can be affected, it usually occurs between 30 and 50 years of age. The other type of heel pain is the sort you get from an acute injury--a bruise to the bone or soft tissue strain resulting from a strenuous activity, like walking, running, or jumping, or from some degree of trauma. While there are dozens of possible causes to heel pain, I will review some of the more common causes. Arch Pain/Plantar Fasciitis. One of those often-painful soft tissue that attaches to heel spurs at the bottom of the foot is called "plantar fascia". Fascia, located throughout the body, is a fibrous connective tissue similar to a ligament. You can see fascia as some of that white, connective tissue attaching to bones, when you pull apart meat. The "plantar" fascia in our bodies is that fascia which is seen on the bottom (or plantar portion) of the foot, extending from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. Compared to other fascia around the body, plantar fascia is very thick and very strong. It has to be strong because of the tremendous amount of force it must endure when you walk, run or jump. But while the plantar fascia is a strong structure, it can still get injured, most commonly when it is stretched beyond its normal length over long periods of time. Plantar Fascitis. When plantar fascia is injured, the condition is called "plantar fasciitis", pronounced "plan-tar fash-I-tis". (Adding "-itis" to the end of a word means that structure is inflamed.) It is sometimes known more simply as 'fasciitis'. Plantar fasciitis is the most common type of arch pain. Symptoms of plantar fasciitis may occur anywhere along the arch, but it is most common near its attachment to the heel bone.
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.
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
Essentially rest from aggravating activity, physiotherapy treatment to alleviate the inflammatory component, stretching the tight calf, strengthening up of the intrinsic muscles of the foot e.g. tissue scrunch, picking up pens etc. and correction of biomechanical problems in the foot e.g. orthotics. Sometimes, a heel cup or pad to relieve pressure - a donut type pad may be helpful. Strapping has been shown to be helpful, especially in circumstances where the patient can?t wear orthotics - the foot is strapped to help support the arch. There has been limited success with cortisone injections or surgery and the latter is very rarely required.
When a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is made early, most patients respond to conservative treatment and don?t require surgical intervention. Often, when there is a secondary diagnosis contributing to your pain, such as an entrapped nerve, and you are non-responsive to conservative care, surgery may be considered. Dr. Talarico will discuss all options and which approach would be the most beneficial for your condition.
You can help to prevent heel pain by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch of the foot and cushion the heel. If you are prone to plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon (heel cord) and plantar fascia may help to prevent the area from being injured again. You also can massage the soles of your feet with ice after stressful athletic activities. Sometimes, the only interventions needed are a brief period of rest and new walking or running shoes.