What Exactly Leads To Heel Discomfort

Heel Pain

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot. If you strain your plantar fascia, it gets weak, swollen, and irritated (inflamed). Then your heel or the bottom of your foot hurts when you stand or walk. Plantar fasciitis is common in middle-aged people. It also occurs in younger people who are on their feet a lot, like athletes or soldiers. It can happen in one foot or both feet.


Causes

The plantar fascia is designed to absorb the high stresses and strains we place on our feet. But, sometimes, too much pressure damages or tears the tissues. The body’s natural response to injury is inflammation, which results in the heel pain and stiffness of plantar fasciitis.


Symptoms

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the heel of the foot. Some people complain of a sharp stabbing pain especially with walking. Others describe the pain as a dull ache after prolonged standing. The pain of plantar fasciitis is often worst in the morning or following activity.


Diagnosis

If you see a doctor for heel pain, he or she will first ask questions about where you feel the pain. If plantar fasciitis is suspected, the doctor will ask about what activities you’ve been doing that might be putting you at risk. The doctor will also examine your foot by pressing on it or asking you to flex it to see if that makes the pain worse. If something else might be causing the pain, like a heel spur or a bone fracture, the doctor may order an X-ray to take a look at the bones of your feet. In rare cases, if heel pain doesn’t respond to regular treatments, the doctor also might order an MRI scan of your foot. The good news about plantar fasciitis is that it usually goes away after a few months if you do a few simple things like stretching exercises and cutting back on activities that might have caused the problem. Taking over-the-counter medicines can help with pain. It’s rare that people need surgery for plantar fasciitis. Doctors only do surgery as a last resort if nothing else eases the pain.


Non Surgical Treatment

Your GP or podiatrist may advise you to change your footwear. You should avoid wearing flat-soled shoes, because they will not provide your heel with support and could make your heel pain worse. Ideally, you should wear shoes that cushion your heels and provide a good level of support to the arches of your feet. For women wearing high heels, and for men wearing heeled boots or brogues, can provide short- to medium-term pain relief, as they help reduce pressure on the heels. However, these types of shoes may not be suitable in the long term, because they can lead to further episodes of heel pain. Your GP or podiatrist can advise on footwear. Orthoses are insoles that fit inside your shoe to support your foot and help your heel recover. You can buy orthoses off-the-shelf from sports shops and larger pharmacies. Alternatively, your podiatrist should be able to recommend a supplier. If your pain does not respond to treatment and keeps recurring, or if you have an abnormal foot shape or structure, custom-made orthoses are available. These are specifically made to fit the shape of your feet. However, there is currently no evidence to suggest that custom-made orthoses are more effective than those bought off-the-shelf. An alternative to using orthoses is to have your heel strapped with sports strapping (zinc oxide) tape, which helps relieve pressure on your heel. Your GP or podiatrist can teach you how to apply the tape yourself. In some cases, night splints can also be useful. Most people sleep with their toes pointing down, which means tissue inside the heel is squeezed together. Night splints, which look like boots, are designed to keep your toes and feet pointing up while you are asleep. This will stretch both your Achilles tendon and your plantar fascia, which should help speed up your recovery time. Night splints are usually only available from specialist shops and online retailers. Again, your podiatrist should be able to recommend a supplier. If treatment hasn’t helped relieve your painful symptoms, your GP may recommend corticosteroid injections. Corticosteroids are a type of medication that have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. They have to be used sparingly because overuse can cause serious side effects, such as weight gain and high blood pressure (hypertension). As a result, it is usually recommended that no more than three corticosteroid injections are given within a year in any part of the body. Before having a corticosteroid injection, a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your foot so you don’t feel any pain.

Plantar Fascia


Surgical Treatment

Surgery is not a common treatment for this condition. Approximately 5% of people with plantar fasciitis require surgery if non-surgical methods do not help to relieve pain within a year. The surgical procedure involves making an incision in the plantar fascia in order to decrease the tension of the ligament. Potential risks of this surgical procedure include irritation of the nerves around the heel, continued plantar fasciitis, heel or foot pain, infection, flattening of the arch, problems relating to the anesthetic.


Prevention

Maintain a healthy weight. This minimizes the stress on your plantar fascia. Choose supportive shoes. Avoid high heels. Buy shoes with a low to moderate heel, good arch support and shock absorbency. Don’t go barefoot, especially on hard surfaces. Don’t wear worn-out athletic shoes. Replace your old athletic shoes before they stop supporting and cushioning your feet. If you’re a runner, buy new shoes after about 500 miles of use. Change your sport. Try a low-impact sport, such as swimming or bicycling, instead of walking or jogging. Apply ice. Hold a cloth-covered ice pack over the area of pain for 15 to 20 minutes three or four times a day or after activity. Or try ice massage. Freeze a water-filled paper cup and roll it over the site of discomfort for about five to seven minutes. Regular ice massage can help reduce pain and inflammation. Stretch your arches. Simple home exercises can stretch your plantar fascia, Achilles tendon and calf muscles.

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