Heel Pain

Do You Really Understand Heel Discomfort?

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Overview

Pain At The Heel

Every mile you walk puts tons of stress on each foot. Your feet can handle a heavy load, but too much stress pushes them over their limits. When you pound your feet on hard surfaces playing sports or wear shoes that irritate sensitive tissues, you may develop Heel Pain, the most common problem affecting the foot and ankle. A sore heel will usually get better on its own without surgery if you give it enough rest. However, many people ignore the early signs of heel pain and keep on doing the activities that caused it. When you continue to walk on a sore heel, it will only get worse and could become a chronic condition leading to more problems.

Causes

There are several causes of heel pain. By far the most common cause in adults is a condition commonly known as plantar fasciitis. Other names occasionally used for the same condition are heel spurs, and policeman?s heel. Plantar means bottom of the foot, and fascia is the fibrous tissues that helps tether the heel bone (calcaneus) to the heads of the metatarsal bones found at the base of your toes The meaning of ?itis? is inflammation. However, inflammation does not have a large part to play in the pathology, it is more degenerative (wear & tear) so the preferred title is plantar fasciosis or plantar aponeurotic fasciosis. For simplicity sake, we will refer to this common cause of heel pain as plantar fasciitis in this manual.

Symptoms

The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain along the inside edge of the heel near the arch of the foot. The pain is worse when weight is placed on the foot especially after a long period of rest or inactivity. This is usually most pronounced in the morning when the foot is first placed on the floor. This symptom called first-step pain is typical of plantar fasciitis. Prolonged standing can also increase the painful symptoms. It may feel better after activity but most patients report increased pain by the end of the day. Pressing on this part of the heel causes tenderness. Pulling the toes back toward the face can be very painful.

Diagnosis

Your GP or podiatrist (a healthcare professional who specialises in foot care) may be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and examining your heel and foot. You will usually only need further tests if you have additional symptoms that suggest the cause of your heel pain is not inflammation, such as numbness or a tingling sensation in your foot – this could be a sign of nerve damage in your feet and legs (peripheral neuropathy), your foot feels hot and you have a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above – these could be signs of a bone infection, you have stiffness and swelling in your heel – this could be a sign of arthritis. Possible further tests may include, blood tests, X-rays – where small doses of radiation are used to detect problems with your bones and tissues, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or ultrasound scan, which are more detailed 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

If treatment hasn’t worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery – where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.

Prevention

Painful Heel

Wear properly fitting shoes. Place insoles or inserts in your shoes to help control abnormal foot motion. Maintain a healthy weight. Exercise and do foot stretches as they have been shown to decrease the incidence of heel pain.