What Causes Painful Heel

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is sometimes mixed up with a heel spur although they are not the same. A heel spur is a calcium deposit that occurs where the plantar fascia is attached to the heel bone (calcaneus). In many cases a heel spur is found on a foot with no pain or other symptoms at all. And in many painful heels there is no sign for a heel spur. Heel spur and painful heal does not necessarily go together. For many years plantar fasciitis was believed to be an inflammatory condition. It is thought now to be inaccurate because there were many cases of the disorder with no inflammatory signs observed within the fascia. The heel pain cause is now believed to be damage to the collagen fibers of the fascia. This damage, caused by stress injury, sometimes may include inflammatory cells.




Causes

Factors which may contribute to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs include a sudden increase in daily activities, increase in weight (not usually a problem with runners), or a change of shoes. Dramatic increase in training intensity or duration may cause plantar fasciitis. Shoes that are too flexible in the middle of the arch or shoes that bend before the toe joints will cause an increase in tension in the plantar fascia. Even though you may have run in shoes that are flexible before, now that you have developed plantar fasciitis, make certain that your shoe is stable and does not bend in the midfoot. Check and be certain that your shoes are not excessively worn. Shoes that do not sufficiently control excessive pronation combined with an increase in training can lead to this condition. A change in running style or parameters, such as starting speed work, running on the ball of your foot or sudden increase in hill workouts may lead to problems. All changes should be gradual and not abrupt. Gait changes such as altering your foot strike, switching shoe style, running barefoot or in minimalist shoes should all be made gradually and not abruptly. The "terrible too's" of too much, too soon, too often with too little rest also applies to "too many changes with too little adaptation". Make your changes gradually and allow your muscles, bones, and other body structures to adapt to the alterations you may be attempting.




Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia - a band of tough fibrous tissue running along the sole of the foot. It occurs when small tears develop in the plantar fascia, leading to inflammation and heel pain. The plantar fascia tissue branches out from the heel like a fan, connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes. When the foot moves, the plantar fascia stretches and contracts. The plantar fascia helps to maintain the arch of the foot in much the same way that the string of a bow maintains the bow's arch. The most notable symptom of plantar fasciitis is heel pain. This is typically most severe in the middle of the heel though it may radiate along the sole of the foot. The pain is most often felt when walking first thing in the morning or after a period of rest. As walking continues the pain may decrease; however some degree of pain remains present on movement. The pain may disappear when resting, as the plantar fascia is relaxed. Redness, swelling and warmth over the affected area may also be noticed. The onset of plantar fasciitis is gradual and only mild pain may be experienced initially. However, as the condition progresses the pain experienced tends to become more severe. Chronic plantar fasciitis may cause a person to change their walking or running action, leading to symptoms of discomfort in the knee, hip and back.




Diagnosis

Plantar fasciitis is one of many conditions causing "heel pain". Some other possible causes include nerve compression either in the foot or in the back, stress fracture of the calcaneus, and loss of the fatty tissue pad under the heel. Plantar fasciitis can be distinguished from these and other conditions based on a history and examination done by a physician. It should be noted that heel spurs are often inappropriately thought to be the sole cause of heel pain. In fact, heel spurs are common and are nothing more than the bone's response to traction or pulling-type forces from the plantar fascia and other muscles in the foot where they attach to the heel bone. They are commonly present in patients without pain, and frequently absent from those who have pain. It is the rare patient who has a truly enlarged and problematic spur requiring surgery.




Non Surgical Treatment

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include. Apply ice or a cold pack to the heel and arch for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. A special splint that will hold your foot in a neutral position while sleeping. Special shoe inserts that support the mid-arch region of your foot. Inserts that are not customized may work just as well as those that are customized. Activity. Avoid running and other activities that may worsen pain. Begin stretching exercises to lengthen the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia as recommended by your doctor. This is usually done when pain has lessened or improved. To help manage pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Prescription pain relievers may also be required. Steroid injections may be used in some cases or if other treatment is not working. A special type of sound wave called extracorporeal shock wave may also be considered in certain cases. This treatment happens under the care of your doctor. At this time, this is generally a treatment for long-term cases that do not respond to other treatments. Massage therapy or accupuncture may also be effective for long-term cases. In a few cases, basic treatments don't help. Surgery may be performed to cut the tight, swollen fascia.

Plantar Fasciitis




Surgical Treatment

If treatment hasn't worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints, a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as, open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel, endoscopic or minimal incision surgery - where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team. 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).




Stretching Exercises

Exercises designed to stretch both your calf muscles and your plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs under the sole of your foot) should help relieve pain and improve flexibility in the affected foot. A number of stretching exercises are described below. It's usually recommended that you do the exercises on both legs, even if only one of your heels is affected by pain. This will improve your balance and stability, and help relieve heel pain. Towel stretches. Keep a long towel beside your bed. Before you get out of bed in the morning, loop the towel around your foot and use it to pull your toes towards your body, while keeping your knee straight. Repeat three times on each foot. Wall stretches. Place both hands on a wall at shoulder height, with one of your feet in front of the other. The front foot should be about 30cm (12 inches) away from the wall. With your front knee bent and your back leg straight, lean towards the wall until you feel a tightening in the calf muscles of your back leg. Then relax. Repeat this exercise 10 times before switching legs and repeating the cycle. You should practise wall stretches twice a day. Stair stretches. Stand on a step of your stairs facing upstairs, using your banister for support. Your feet should be slightly apart, with your heels hanging off the back of the step. Lower your heels until you feel a tightening in your calves. Hold this position for about 40 seconds, before raising your heels back to the starting position. Repeat this procedure six times, at least twice a day. Chair stretches. Sit on a chair, with your knees bent at right angles. Turn your feet sideways so your heels are touching and your toes are pointing in opposite directions. Lift the toes of the affected foot upwards, while keeping the heel firmly on the floor. You should feel your calf muscles and Achilles tendon (the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your calf muscle) tighten. Hold this position for several seconds and then relax. Repeat this procedure 10 times, five to six times a day. Dynamic stretches. While seated, roll the arch of your foot (the curved bottom part of the foot between your toes and heel) over a round object, such as a rolling pin, tennis ball or drinks can. Some people find that using a chilled can from their fridge has the added benefit of helping to relieve pain. Move your foot and ankle in all directions over the object for several minutes. Repeat the exercise twice a day.

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