Heel pain is a very challenging problem as it can be local and/or referred. It has been more prevalent recently due to the hard grounds on which people have to run. Commonly people will present with heel pain, thrusting an x-ray at you, and being adamant that the problem is a ?heel spur?. This is defined as a small bone that grows from the heel, directing forwards towards the toes. This may be as small as 1 mm to anything as large as 8 - 10 mm. Most of the time, this is an incidental finding, as there many heels that are pain free that have heel spurs evident on x-rays. The spur is thought to be a result of traction of the plantar fascia on the heel. In some cases, the spur may contribute to the symptoms, but is not the main cause. This should be explained very carefully to the patient, as the focus on the spur may limit the recovery, as the patient may believe that the only way to eliminate the pain is to remove the spur.
Plantar Fasciitis is the most common form of heel pain. The tears and inflammation that develop along the plantar fascia ligament result in dull aching pain or a burning sensation along the bottom of the foot. Pain becomes particularly noticeable after periods of rest, such as during the first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning, or after getting up after a prolonged period of sitting. Another common form of heel pain is the development of a heel spur. A heel spur, as mentioned above, is the formation of a bony hook extending from the heel. Typically, these growths develop near the area where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. The repetitive pressure on the plantar fascia that results from stretching excessively away from the heel bone causes a response from our body that delivers calcium to the area. The heel pain that ensues develops from the nerves and sensitive tissue that become irritated when the bone fragment digs into the bottom of the heel. Pain may decrease after walking as the tissue in the heel gets used to the fragment and adjusts around it. However, pain will be particularly problematic following periods of rest. Strained muscle tissue may cause heel pain in several areas. A tight plantar fascia causes additional tension, particularly while exercising, placing runners and other athletes at risk if the ligament is not properly warmed up prior to exercise. Additionally, a tight Achilles tendon along the back of the foot can also add tension along the plantar fascia, resulting in possible damage, not to mention the damage and pain that can occur along the Achilles tendon itself (Achilles tendonitis). It is recommended that athletes properly stretch the foot as well as the calf in order to reduce tension on muscle and other tissue in the foot.
Symptoms include a dull ache which is felt most of the time with episodes of a sharp pain in the centre of the heel or on the inside margin of the heel. Often the pain is worse on first rising in the morning and after rest and is aggravated by prolonged weight bearing & thin soled shoes.
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
Treating plantar fasciitis in the early stages usually allows for a quicker recovery. Left untreated, this condition can progress to the point where there is pain with each and every step. This typically means a return to a pain free day will take much longer. Initial treatments are aimed at reducing stress on the fascia so it can begin to heal. Also, treatment to reduce the associated inflammation is started. These treatments often include: ice therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, stretching exercises, wearing shoes with appropriate support, taping of the foot and the use of a night splint. If these interventions do not lead to a full resolution, custom shoe inserts, cortisone injections and additional treatment by a physical therapist are often utilized. For patients that fail to respond to all of these efforts, surgical release of the plantar fascia can be a very effective course of action. The good news is this: 95% of the time plantar fasciitis can be fully resolved without the need for surgery. High energy shock wave therapy, sometimes referred to as orthotripsy, is a relatively new treatment that has been shown to be effective 70% of the time in patients that continue to have pain despite extensive non-surgical treatment.
When a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is made early, most patients respond to conservative treatment and don?t require surgical intervention. Often, when there is a secondary diagnosis contributing to your pain, such as an entrapped nerve, and you are non-responsive to conservative care, surgery may be considered. Dr. Talarico will discuss all options and which approach would be the most beneficial for your condition.
heel pain pads
Maintaining flexible and strong muscles in your calves, ankles, and feet can help prevent some types of heel pain. Always stretch and warm-up before exercising. Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes with good arch support and cushioning. Make sure there is enough room for your toes.