More than 20 percent of patients visit foot specialists because of Heel Pain, and approximately one-third of all patients I see come because of this problem. Over 50 percent of Americans will experience heel pain during their lifetime. The most common form of heel pain is known as plantar fasciitis or “heel spur syndrome.” The plantar fascia is a thick ligament on the bottom of your foot spanning from your heel to the base of your toes. It supports the arch and several muscles under the bones that support the foot. Overtime, most people will develop some degree of calcification within these muscles on the bottom of their heel called a “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.
The primary symptom is pain in the heel area that varies in severity and location. The pain is commonly intense when getting out of bed or a chair. The pain often lessens when walking.
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
Early treatment might involve exercise and shoe recommendations, taping or strapping and anti-inflammatory medication (such as aspirin). Taping or strapping supports the foot, placing stressed muscles in a restful state and preventing stretching of the plantar fascia. Other physical therapies may also be used, including ice packs and ultra-sounds. These treatments will effectively treat the majority of heel and arch pain without the need for surgery.
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.
A variety of steps can be taken to avoid heel pain and accompanying afflictions. Wear shoes that fit well-front, back, and sides-and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid shanks, and supportive heel counters. Wear the proper shoes for each activity. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm up and do stretching exercises before and after running. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. Don?t underestimate your body’s need for rest and good nutrition. If obese, lose weight.