What Is Heel Pain

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition causing heel pain and many people with the condition also have heel spurs. It affects the band of tissue (plantar fascia) that supports the middle part of the foot and runs along the sole of the foot from the heel to the ball of the foot. Usually the plantar fascia is strong and flexible but due to certain factors it can become irritated and inflamed where the plantar fascia joins the bone in the foot. Heel spurs occur when there's constant pulling of the fascia at the heel bone. This leads to a bony growth or spur. The symptoms of plantar fasciitis are pain in the arch of the foot or heel. This pain is usually worse in the morning after rest when the plantar fascia tightens and shortens. Heel spurs cause a stabbing pain at the bottom or front of the heel bone.




Causes

Currently no single factor has been reliably identified as contributing to the development of plantar fasciitis. The two risk factors with the most support from current research. Decreased ankle dorsiflexion. Increased Body Mass Index (BMI) in non-athletic populations. These factors are related in that both lead to increased strain on the arch, both lead to increased compression on the heel. When dorsiflexion range of motion (ankle flexibility) is lacking, the body compensates by increasing movement of the arch. In this way, decreased ankle dorsiflexion influences pronation and places strain on the underside of the foot. Similarly, having a high BMI causes strain because it places a load on the foot that may be in excess of what the foot can support. As mentioned earlier, overpronation is thought to be a contributing factor, but studies on this have so far produced mixed results. The second way these factors relate to each other is in the way people stand. A lack of ankle flexibility and a high BMI can both cause increased pressure on the heel in standing. Keeping weight on the heels causes compression under the heel. But it also means the muscles and ligaments in the arch are not being used to balance your body weight. Lack of use, I suspect, is a greater danger than overuse. Looking beyond these potential contributors to heel pain though, there is one major factor that overshadows them all-the way footwear alters the normal function of the foot.




Symptoms

Among the symptoms for Plantar Fasciitis is pain usually felt on the underside of the heel, often most intense with the first steps after getting out of bed in the morning. It is commonly associated with long periods of weight bearing or sudden changes in weight bearing or activity. Plantar Fasciitis also called “policeman’s heel” is presented by a sharp stabbing pain at the bottom or front of the heel bone. In most cases, heel pain is more severe following periods of inactivity when getting up and then subsides, turning into a dull ache.




Diagnosis

Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by a health care provider after consideration of a person’s presenting history, risk factors, and clinical examination. Tenderness to palpation along the inner aspect of the heel bone on the sole of the foot may be elicited during the physical examination. The foot may have limited dorsiflexion due to tightness of the calf muscles or the Achilles tendon. Dorsiflexion of the foot may elicit the pain due to stretching of the plantar fascia with this motion. Diagnostic imaging studies are not usually needed to diagnose plantar fasciitis. However, in certain cases a physician may decide imaging studies (such as X-rays, diagnostic ultrasound or MRI) are warranted to rule out other serious causes of foot pain. Bilateral heel pain or heel pain in the context of a systemic illness may indicate a need for a more in-depth diagnostic investigation. Lateral view x-rays of the ankle are the recommended first-line imaging modality to assess for other causes of heel pain such as stress fractures or bone spur development. Plantar fascia aponeurosis thickening at the heel greater than 5 millimeters as demonstrated by ultrasound is consistent with a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. An incidental finding associated with this condition is a heel spur, a small bony calcification on the calcaneus (heel bone), which can be found in up to 50% of those with plantar fasciitis. In such cases, it is the underlying plantar fasciitis that produces the heel pain, and not the spur itself. The condition is responsible for the creation of the spur though the clinical significance of heel spurs in plantar fasciitis remains unclear.




Non Surgical Treatment

Stretching is the best treatment for plantar fasciitis. It may help to try to keep weight off your foot until the initial inflammation goes away. You can also apply ice to the sore area for 20 minutes three or four times a day to relieve your symptoms. Often a doctor will prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Home exercises to stretch your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are the mainstay of treatment and reduce the chance of recurrence.

Painful Heel




Surgical Treatment

Surgery for plantar fasciitis can be very successful in the right patients. While there are potential complications, about 70-80% of patients will find relief after plantar fascia release surgery. This may not be perfect, but if plantar fasciitis has been slowing you down for a year or more, it may well be worth these potential risks of surgery. New surgical techniques allow surgery to release the plantar fascia to be performed through small incisions using a tiny camera to locate and cut the plantar fascia. This procedure is called an endoscopic plantar fascia release. Some surgeons are concerned that the endoscopic plantar fascia release procedure increases the risk of damage to the small nerves of the foot. While there is no definitive answer that this endoscopic plantar fascia release is better or worse than a traditional plantar fascia release, most surgeons still prefer the traditional approach.




Prevention

Plantar fasciitis can be a nagging problem, which gets worse and more difficult to treat the longer it's present. To prevent plantar fasciitis, run on soft surfaces, keep mileage increases to less than 10 percent per week, and visit a specialty running shop to make sure you're wearing the proper shoes for your foot type and gait. It's also important to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.

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