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Understanding Heel Ache

June 29, 2017
Overview

Feet Pain

Heel pain is common and can be due to a number of conditions. The calcaneus (heel bone) is the largest bone in the foot and is the first to hit the ground when walking. The heel bone is designed to be the first contact the foot has with the ground. The achilles tendon inserts into the back of the heel bone (calcaneus) and a very strong ligament along the bottom of the foot attaches to the bottom of the heel bone (the plantar fascia). Several small muscles also attach to the heel bone above the insertion of the plantar fascia. Given the forces of walking that the heel bone is subjected to and the pull of all these ligaments and muscles, then it is not surprising that heel pain is so common.

Causes

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.

Symptoms

The most common complaint is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. Heel pain may be sharp or dull, and it may develop slowly over time or suddenly after intense activity. The pain is typically worse in the morning, when taking your first steps of the day. After standing or sitting for a while. When climbing stairs.

Diagnosis

A podiatrist (doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of foot diseases) will carry out a physical examination, and ask pertinent questions about the pain. The doctor will also ask the patient how much walking and standing the patient does, what type of footwear is worn, and details of the his/her medical history. Often this is enough to make a diagnosis. Sometimes further diagnostic tests are needed, such as blood tests and imaging scans.

Non Surgical Treatment

Clinical trials are underway investigating the use of radiofrequency to treat plantar fasciitis. It is a simple, noninvasive form of treatment. It allows for rapid recovery and pain relief within seven to 10 days. The radio waves promote angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels) in the area. Once again, increasing blood flow to the damaged tissue encourages a healing response. Antiinflammatory medications are sometimes used to decrease the inflammation in the fascia and reduce your pain. Studies show that just as many people get better with antiinflammatories as those who don't have any improvement. Since these medications are rarely used alone, it's difficult to judge their true effectiveness. A cortisone injection into the area of the fascia may be used but has not been proven effective. Studies show better results when ultrasound is used to improve the accuracy of needle placement. Cortisone should be used sparingly since it may cause rupture of the plantar fascia and fat pad degeneration and atrophy, making the problem worse. Botulinum toxin A otherwise known as BOTOX has been used to treat plantar fasciitis. The chemical is injected into the area and causes paralysis of the muscles. BOTOX has direct analgesic (pain relieving) and antiinflammatory effects. In studies so far, there haven't been any side effects of this treatment.

Surgical Treatment

Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.

clearly adjustable heel lifts

Prevention

Feet Pain

It may not be possible to prevent all cases of heel pain. However, there are some easy steps that you can take to avoid injury to the heel and prevent pain. Whenever possible, you should wear shoes that fit properly and support the foot, wear the right shoes for physical activity, stretch your muscles before exercising, pace yourself during physical activity, maintain a healthy diet, rest when you feel tired or when your muscles ache, maintain a healthy weight.

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