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.
Patients with tight calf muscles will suffer with excessive pulling of the muscle group on the back of the heel. This in turn creates pulling of other structures that are attached to the heel, including the Plantar Fascia. When the pulling continues for long enough, then inflammation will develop and lead to Plantar Fasciitis. This causes Heel Pain. It is extremely common for patients who increase their level of activity to develop Plantar Fasciitis. Boot camp, running, zumba, recreational walking or other quick movement sports such as tennis or touch football are typical causes of Heel Pain. The sharp increase in exercise is too much for the foot to cope with and the stress on the Plantar Fascia causes inflammation. The Heel Pain that is caused by this inflammation is known as Plantar Fasciitis.
The most common symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain on the bottom of the foot near the heel, pain with the first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning, or after a long period of rest, such as after a long car ride. The pain subsides after a few minutes of walking. Greater pain after (not during) exercise or activity.
During the physical exam, your doctor checks for points of tenderness in your foot. The location of your pain can help determine its cause. Usually no tests are necessary. The diagnosis is made based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally your doctor may suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn’t being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve. Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Most health care providers agree that initial treatment for plantar fasciitis should be quite conservative. You’ll probably be advised to avoid any exercise that is making your pain worse. Your doctor may also advise one or more of these treatment options. A heel pad. In plantar fasciitis, a heel pad is sometimes used to cushion the painful heel if you spend a great deal of time on your feet on hard surfaces. Also, over-the-counter or custom-made orthotics, which fit inside your shoes, may be constructed to address specific imbalances you may have with foot placement or gait. Stretching: Stretching exercises performed three to five times a day can help elongate the heel cord. Ice: You may be advised to apply ice packs to your heel or to use an ice block to massage the plantar fascia before going to bed each night. Pain relievers: Simple over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are often helpful in decreasing inflammation and pain. If you have stomach trouble from such drugs, your health care provider may prescribe an alternative. A night splint: A night splint is sometimes used to hold your foot at a specific angle, which prevents the plantar fascia from shortening during sleep. Ultrasound: Ultrasound therapy can be performed to decrease inflammation and aid healing. Steroid injections: Anti-inflammatory steroid injections directly into the tissue around your heel may be temporarily helpful. However, if these injections are used too many times, you may suffer other complications, such as shrinking of the fat pad of your heel, which you need for insulation. Loss of the fat pad could actually increase your pain, or could even rupture the plantar fascia in rare cases. Walking cast: In cases of long-term plantar fasciitis unresponsive to usual treatments, your doctor may recommend that you wear a short walking cast for about three weeks. This ensures that your foot is held in a position that allows the plantar fascia to heal in a stretched, rather than shortened, position. Shock wave therapy, Extracorporeal shock wave therapy which may be prescribed prior to considering surgery if your symptoms have persisted for more than six months. This treatment does not involve any actual incisions being made rather it uses a high intensity shock wave to stimulate healing of the plantar fascia.
In unusual cases, surgical intervention is necessary for relief of pain. These should only be employed after non-surgical efforts have been used without relief. Generally, such surgical procedures may be completed on an outpatient basis in less than one hour, using local anesthesia or minimal sedation administrated by a trained anesthesiologist. In such cases, the surgeon may remove or release the injured and inflamed fascia, after a small incision is made in the heel. A surgical procedure may also be undertaken to remove bone spurs, sometimes as part of the same surgery addressing the damaged tissue. A cast may be used to immobilize the foot following surgery and crutches provided in order to allow greater mobility while keeping weight off the recovering foot during healing. After removal of the cast, several weeks of physical therapy can be used to speed recovery, reduce swelling and restore flexibility.