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What Are The Causes Of Heel Pain And Discomfort

March 28, 2015
Overview

Painful Heel

Heel pain is usually felt either under the heel or just behind it. Heel Pain has a prevalence of 3.6%. US studies estimate that 7% of older adults report tenderness under the heel. Plantar fasciitis is estimated to account for 8% of all running-related injuries. There are 26 bones in the human foot, of which the heel is the largest. Pain typically comes on gradually, with no injury to the affected area. It is often triggered by wearing a flat shoe. In most cases the pain is under the foot, towards the front of the heel. The majority of patients recover with conservative treatments within months. Home care such as rest, ice, proper-fitting footwear and foot supports are often enough to ease heel pain. To prevent heel pain, it's recommended to reduce the stress on that part of the body.

Causes

The most common cause of plantar fasciitis relates to faulty structure of the foot. For example, people who have problems with their arches, either overly flat feet or high-arched feet, are more prone to developing plantar fasciitis. Wearing non-supportive footwear on hard, flat surfaces puts abnormal strain on the plantar fascia and can also lead to plantar fasciitis. This is particularly evident when one?s job requires long hours on the feet. Obesity may also contribute to plantar fasciitis.

Symptoms

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.

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

Initial treatment should consist of an ice pack. Some runners prefer to use a wet towel that has been in the fridge. We recommend you use commercially available ice packs for focused pain released. An anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen will help to reduce the swelling. Please note this should be taken with meals and never before running. As with all soft tissue injuries, you may have to re-examine your training regime. A reduction or even a total break form running may be necessary. . Examine your running shoes, making sure the shoes do not bend excessively near the middle of the foot and at the ball of the foot. Sports shoes with built in insoles can be beneficial, however we recommend you replace existing insoles with specific sports orthotics/ insoles. Silicone heel cups, leather heel pads and contrasting cold and hot therapy can all help to speed up the healing process. The plantar fascia stretch will help to prevent the injury from occurring again. Please note that this stretch should not be done while the heel is inflamed and should only be attempted once you?re a feeling minimal or no pain from your heel.

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 or 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 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 or 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.

Prevention

Heel Pain

A variety of steps can be taken to avoid heel pain and accompanying afflictions. Wear shoes that fit well-front, back, and sides-and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid shanks, and supportive heel counters. Wear the proper shoes for each activity. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm up and do stretching exercises before and after running. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. Don?t underestimate your body's need for rest and good nutrition. If obese, lose weight.

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