What Is Pain At The Heel And A Way To Alleviate It

Foot Pain

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot disorder that affects more than two million people every year, especially runners. It is inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot. The most common area of pain is directly on the bottom of the heel, although some people may only have pain in the arch of the foot. Diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is typically done through a physical examination, which includes listening to the patient history, palpation of the heel and possibly x-rays.




Causes

This is a problem of either extreme, so people with high arches or those that have very flat feet are at risk of developing pain in this region. This is because of the relative stress the plantar fascia is put under. In people with excessive pronation, the plantar fascia is put under too much stretch, as their range flattens and strains it. People with a stiff, supinated (high-arched) foot lack the flexibility to appropriately shock absorb, so this too puts extra strain on the plantar fascia. Clinically, we see more people presenting with plantar fascia pain who have excessive pronation than those with stiff, supinated feet. But while the foot type is the biggest risk factor for plantar fasciitis, the whole leg from the pelvis down can affect how the foot hits the ground. A thorough biomechanical assessment will determine where in the kinetic chain things have gone wrong to cause the overload.




Symptoms

The pain associated with plantar fasciitis is typically gradual in onset and is usually located over the inner or medial aspect of the heel. Occasionally, the pain will be sudden in onset, occurring after missing a step or after jumping from a height. The pain is commonly most severe upon arising from bed in the morning, or after periods of inactivity during the day. Thus, it causes what is known as "first-step pain." The degree of discomfort can sometimes lessen with activity during the course of the day or after "warming-up", but can become worse if prolonged or vigorous activity is undertaken. The pain is also often noted to be more severe in bare feet or in shoes with minimal or no padding at the sole.




Diagnosis

To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.




Non Surgical Treatment

In general, we start by correcting training errors. This usually requires relative rest, the use of ice after activities, and an evaluation of the patient's shoes and activities. Next, we try correction of biomechanical factors with a stretching and strengthening program. If the patient still has no improvement, we consider night splints and orthotics. Finally, all other treatment options are considered. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are considered throughout the treatment course, although we explain to the patient that this medicine is being used primarily for pain control and not to treat the underlying problem.

Foot Pain




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.




Stretching Exercises

In one exercise, you lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and heel on the ground. Your other knee is bent. Your heel cord and foot arch stretch as you lean. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times for each sore heel. It is important to keep the knee fully extended on the side being stretched. In another exercise, you lean forward onto a countertop, spreading your feet apart with one foot in front of the other. Flex your knees and squat down, keeping your heels on the ground as long as possible. Your heel cords and foot arches will stretch as the heels come up in the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times. About 90 percent of people with plantar fasciitis improve significantly after two months of initial treatment. You may be advised to use shoes with shock-absorbing soles or fitted with an off-the-shelf shoe insert device like a rubber heel pad. Your foot may be taped into a specific position. If your plantar fasciitis continues after a few months of conservative treatment, your doctor may inject your heel with steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. If you still have symptoms, you may need to wear a walking cast for two to three weeks or a positional splint when you sleep. In a few cases, surgery is needed for chronically contracted tissue.

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