What Leads To Heel Discomfort And Approaches To Alleviate It

Pain On The Heel

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammatory process of the plantar fascia, a thick fibrous band of connective tissue originating on the bottom surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the five toes. Pain in the arch or heel often indicates inflammation of the long band of tissue under the foot (the plantar fascia). It can cause sharp pain and discomfort in either the mid arch region or at the inside heel, and less commonly the outside heel. It frequently causes pain upon rising from rest (especially first thing in the morning) and can progress to agony by the end of the day. Although plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of this pain, it must be skilfully differentially diagnosed from other conditions via a thorough history taking and physical examination.




Causes

Repeated small injuries to the fascia (with or without inflammation) are thought to be the cause of plantar fasciitis. The injury is usually near to where the plantar fascia attaches to your heel bone. You are more likely to injure your plantar fascia in certain situations. For example, if you are on your feet for a lot of the time, or if you do lots of walking, running, standing, etc, when you are not used to it. (Plantar fasciitis may be confused with 'Policeman's heel', but they are different. Policeman's heel is plantar calcaneal bursitis - inflammation of the sack of fluid (bursa) under the heel bone. This is not as common as plantar fasciitis.) Also, people with a sedentary lifestyle are more prone to plantar fasciitis. If you have recently started exercising on a different surface, for example, running on the road instead of a track. If you have been wearing shoes with poor cushioning or poor arch support. If you are overweight this will put extra strain on your heel. If there is overuse or sudden stretching of your sole. For example, athletes who increase running intensity or distance; poor technique starting 'off the blocks', etc. If you have a tight Achilles tendon (the big tendon at the bottom of your calf muscles above your heel). This can affect your ability to flex your ankle and make you more likely to damage your plantar fascia. Often there is no apparent cause for plantar fasciitis, particularly in older people. A common wrong belief is that the pain is due to a bony growth or 'spur' coming from the heel bone (calcaneum). Many people have a bony spur of the heel bone but not everyone with this gets plantar fasciitis.




Symptoms

The most common symptom is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. The heel pain may be dull or sharp. The bottom of the foot may also ache or burn. The pain is often worse in the morning when you take your first steps, after standing or sitting for awhile, when climbing stairs, after intense activity. The pain may develop slowly over time, or come on suddenly after intense activity.




Diagnosis

To diagnose plantar fasciitis, your doctor will physically examine your foot by testing your reflexes, balance, coordination, muscle strength, and muscle tone. Your doctor may also advise a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-ray to rule out other others sources of your pain, such as a pinched nerve, stress fracture, or bone spur.




Non Surgical Treatment

Talk to your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Options include. Apply ice or a cold pack to the heel and arch for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. A special splint that will hold your foot in a neutral position while sleeping. Special shoe inserts that support the mid-arch region of your foot. Inserts that are not customized may work just as well as those that are customized. Activity. Avoid running and other activities that may worsen pain. Begin stretching exercises to lengthen the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia as recommended by your doctor. This is usually done when pain has lessened or improved. To help manage pain, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Prescription pain relievers may also be required. Steroid injections may be used in some cases or if other treatment is not working. A special type of sound wave called extracorporeal shock wave may also be considered in certain cases. This treatment happens under the care of your doctor. At this time, this is generally a treatment for long-term cases that do not respond to other treatments. Massage therapy or accupuncture may also be effective for long-term cases. In a few cases, basic treatments don't help. Surgery may be performed to cut the tight, swollen fascia.

Plantar Fascia




Surgical Treatment

The majority of patients, about 90%, will respond to appropriate non-operative treatment measures over a period of 3-6 months. Surgery is a treatment option for patients with persistent symptoms, but is NOT recommended unless a patient has failed a minimum of 6-9 months of appropriate non-operative treatment. There are a number of reasons why surgery is not immediately entertained including. Non-operative treatment when performed appropriately has a high rate of success. Recovery from any foot surgery often takes longer than patients expect. Complications following this type of surgery can and DO occur! The surgery often does not fully address the underlying reason why the condition occurred therefore the surgery may not be completely effective. Prior to surgical intervention, it is important that the treating physician ensure that the correct diagnosis has been made. This seems self-evident, but there are other potential causes of heel pain. Surgical intervention may include extracorporeal shock wave therapy or endoscopic or open partial plantar fasciectomy.




Prevention

Do your best to maintain healthy weight. Plantar fasciitis is caused by wear and tear on your feet. Being overweight drastically increases the pounding your feet take every day. Even losing a few pounds can help reduce heel pain. Avoid jobs that require walking or standing for long periods of time. Having your body weight on your feet all day puts a lot of pressure on your plantar fascia tissue. Replace your shoes on a regular basis. Buy new shoes when the old ones are worn-out. Make sure your shoes will fit your foot size comfortably at the end of the day. Pay attention to the width as well as the length. Use good supportive shoes that will help you with your original problem like arch support, motion control, stability, cushioning etc. Stretch regularly as part of your daily routine. There are a few special stretching techniques for the prevention. Choose soft surfaces for your exercise routine to walk, jog or run on. Rest and elevate your feet every chance you have. Strengthen your foot muscles as part of your exercise routine. Strong foot muscles provide a good support to the plantar fascia. Change your shoes during the work week. Don't wear the same pair of shoes every day. Perform Warm up exercises such as a short period of walking, a light jog or other easy movement and then stretch before starting the main exercise. Try to avoid dramatic changes in your exercise routine. Increase your exercise level gradually. Don’t run long distance if you are used to walk. Make the change slowly and gradually. Pay attention to your foot pain, do not ignore it. Visit your doctor if the pain continues. Avoid the activities that cause you pain. Use over-the-counter Orthotics or inserts that your doctor may prescribe. Off-the-shelf or custom-fitted arch supports (orthotics) will help distribute pressure to your feet more evenly. Try to avoid barefoot walking, since it may add stress on the plantar fascia ligament.

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