What Exactly Can Cause Painful Heel

Plantar Fasciitis

Overview

The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot that helps form the arch of the foot. Acute injury or cumulative trauma to the plantar fascia can be a cause of inflammation and heel pain. This is called plantar fasciitis.




Causes

Although plantar fasciitis may result from a variety of factors, such as repeat hill workouts and/or tight calves, many sports specialists claim the most common cause for plantar fasciitis is fallen arches. The theory is that excessive lowering of the arch in flat-footed runners in­creases tension in the plantar fascia and overload­s the attachment of the plantar fascia on the heel bone (i.e., the calcaneus). Over time, the repeated pulling of the plantar fascia associated with excessive arch lowering is thought to lead to chronic pain and inflammation at the plantar fascia’s attachment to the heel. In fact, the increased tension on the heel was believed to be so great that it was thought to eventually result in the formation of a heel spur.




Symptoms

Plantar fasciosis is characterized by pain at the bottom of the heel with weight bearing, particularly when first arising in the morning; pain usually abates within 5 to 10 min, only to return later in the day. It is often worse when pushing off of the heel (the propulsive phase of gait) and after periods of rest. Acute, severe heel pain, especially with mild local puffiness, may indicate an acute fascial tear. Some patients describe burning or sticking pain along the plantar medial border of the foot when walking.




Diagnosis

Plantar fasciosis is confirmed if firm thumb pressure applied to the calcaneus when the foot is dorsiflexed elicits pain. Fascial pain along the plantar medial border of the fascia may also be present. If findings are equivocal, demonstration of a heel spur on x-ray may support the diagnosis; however, absence does not rule out the diagnosis, and visible spurs are not generally the cause of symptoms. Also, infrequently, calcaneal spurs appear ill defined on x-ray, exhibiting fluffy new bone formation, suggesting spondyloarthropathy (eg, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis. If an acute fascial tear is suspected, MRI is done.




Non Surgical Treatment

A number of conservative measures can help take stress off the plantar fascia and encourage healing, including Icing, Taping the arch and bottom of the foot, Stretching, especially the calf, Avoiding walking with bare feet, especially on hard surfaces, Wearing orthotics or arch supports, Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. If these methods fail, we generally try one of two things, A cortisone injection can help reduce swelling. Often a single injection will do the trick, but occasionally a second injection may be needed. Alternatively, we can try extracorporeal pulse activation therapy, or EPAT. This method uses sound waves to penetrate to the plantar fascia and stimulate the body’s healing response. We typically do one treatment a week for three weeks, with complete healing taking between nine to 12 weeks.

Painful Heel




Surgical Treatment

Most studies indicate that 95% of those afflicted with plantar fasciitis are able to relieve their heel pain with nonsurgical treatments. If you are one of the few people whose symptoms don't improve with other treatments, your doctor may recommend plantar fascia release surgery. Plantar fascia release involves cutting part of the plantar fascia ligament in order to release the tension and relieve the inflammation of the ligament. Overall, the success rate of surgical release is 70 to 90 percent in patients with plantar fasciitis. While the success rate is very high following surgery, one should be aware that there is often a prolonged postoperative period of discomfort similar to the discomfort experienced prior to surgery. This pain usually will abate within 2-3 months. One should always be sure to understand all the risks associated with any surgery they are considering.




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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