What Can Cause Pain At The Heel And How To Successfully Treat It

Painful Heel

Overview

Heel pain is most commonly caused by plantar fasciitis, which is the swelling of the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes at the bottom part of the foot, also known as the plantar fascia. Plantar fasciitis is often described as sharp pain in the middle of the heel, which is typically worse after periods of rest when fascia contracts. The pain usually becomes more bearable as the muscles loosen up during the low-impact walking, but can return even worse after extended periods of walking or standing. The plantar fascia serves as a shock absorber and supports the foot’s arch. Too much tension on the plantar fascia can cause inflammation and swelling. Fortunately in most cases, plantar fasciitis treatment is fairly conservative. Plantar fasciitis exercises, medications and orthotics are usually all that’s needed to manage the pain. Most severe cases may require surgery.


Causes

Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining the ligament that supports your arch. Repeated strain can cause tiny tears in the ligament. These can lead to pain and swelling. This is more likely to happen if your feet roll inward too much when you walk, you have high arches or flat feet. You walk, stand, or run for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces. You are overweight. You wear shoes that don’t fit well or are worn out. You have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles.


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 usually diagnosed by your physiotherapist or sports doctor based on your symptoms, history and clinical examination. After confirming your plantar fasciitis they will investigate WHY you are likely to be predisposed to plantar fasciitis and develop a treatment plan to decrease your chance of future bouts. X-rays may show calcification within the plantar fascia or at its insertion into the calcaneus, which is known as a calcaneal or heel spur. Ultrasound scans and MRI are used to identify any plantar fasciitis tears, inflammation or calcification. Pathology tests (including screening for HLA B27 antigen) may identify spondyloarthritis, which can cause symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis.


Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment for heel pain usually involves using a combination of techniques, such as stretches and painkillers, to relieve pain and speed up recovery. Most cases of heel pain get better within 12 months. Surgery may be recommended as a last resort if your symptoms don’t improve after this time. Only 1 in 20 people with heel pain will need surgery. Whenever possible, rest the affected foot by not walking long distances and standing for long periods. However, you should regularly stretch your feet and calves using exercises such as those described below. Pain relief. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can be used to help relieve pain. Some people also find applying an ice pack to the affected heel for 5-10 minutes can help relieve pain and inflammation. However, do not apply an ice pack directly to your skin. Instead, wrap it in a towel. If you do not have an ice pack, you can use a packet of frozen vegetables.

Plantar Fascia


Surgical Treatment

The most dramatic therapy, used only in cases where pain is very severe, is surgery. The plantar fascia can be partially detached from the heel bone, but the arch of the foot is weakened and full function may be lost. Another surgery involves lengthening the calf muscle, a process called gastrocnemius recession. If you ignore the condition, you can develop chronic heel pain. This can change the way you walk and cause injury to your legs, knees, hips and back. Steroid injections and some other treatments can weaken the plantar fascia ligament and cause potential rupture of the ligament. Surgery carries the risks of bleeding, infection, and reactions to anesthesia. Plantar fascia detachment can also cause changes in your foot and nerve damage. Gastrocnemius resection can also cause nerve damage.


Prevention

Every time your foot strikes the ground, the plantar fascia is stretched. You can reduce the strain and stress on the plantar fascia by following these simple instructions: Avoid running on hard or uneven ground, lose any excess weight, and wear shoes and orthotics that support your arch to prevent over-stretching of the plantar fascia.

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