Understanding Heel Pains

Overview

Pain Under The Heel

Does it feel like you have a nail in your heel? After walking for a few minutes does the pain slowly disappear? Millions of people each year are faced with this type of Heel Pain. While there may be other causes, the most common is Plantar Fasciitis. Plantar Faciitis is an inflammation of the fibrous tissue, called the plantar fasciia, that runs along the bottom of your foot that connects the heel (calcaneus) to the toes (metatarsals). Treatment for this condition can take many forms including: stretching exercises, drugs, orthotics, injections, and in rare cases surgical procedures. Until now the treatment methods have addressed the active conscious periods only to be undone when a person goes to bed or sits in the easy chair relaxing.

Causes

Heel pain can have many causes but the vast majority is caused by plantar fasciitis. Plantar means, ?bottom of the foot.? Fascia is a ligament or ?bundle? of ligaments. The plantar fascia is the thick ligament that helps to hold up the foot and provide spring in our step. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia and causes more than 90% of heel pain among adults in the US. Plantar fasciitis can be acute, that is, as simple strain of the ligament but often is chronic, hanging on for months if not years. Why does that happen? The answer is poor foot mechanics, the foot sinking down too far allowing the plantar fascia to overstretch with each step taken.

Symptoms

Symptoms include a dull ache which is felt most of the time with episodes of a sharp pain in the centre of the heel or on the inside margin of the heel. Often the pain is worse on first rising in the morning and after rest and is aggravated by prolonged weight bearing & thin soled shoes.

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

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.

Surgical Treatment

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST) is a fairly new type of non-invasive treatment. Non-invasive means it does not involve making cuts into your body. EST involves using a device to deliver high-energy soundwaves into your heel. The soundwaves can sometimes cause pain, so a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your heel. It is claimed that EST works in two ways. It is thought to have a “numbing” effect on the nerves that transmit pain signals to your brain, help stimulate and speed up the healing process. However, these claims have not yet been definitively proven. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance about the use of EST for treating plantar fasciitis. NICE states there are no concerns over the safety of EST, but there are uncertainties about how effective the procedure is for treating heel pain. Some studies have reported that EST is more effective than surgery and other non-surgical treatments, while other studies found the procedure to be no better than a placebo (sham treatment).

Prevention

Feet Pain

Heel pain is commonly caused from shoes that do not fit properly. In addition, shoes need to have ample cushioning and support, particularly through the heel, ball of the foot, and arch. Shoes should also be replaced if they become too worn. One sure sign of wear and tear is overly worn areas of a shoe’s insoles. If the heel or ball of the foot is particularly worn, damage could easily occur since the bottom of the foot is not getting the cushioning it needs.

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