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Heel Pain

Overview

Heel Discomfort

Heel pain is one of the most common conditions to affect the foot. It is usually felt as an intense pain when the affected heel is used. The pain is usually worse when you get out of bed in the morning or after a long period of activity. In most cases, only one heel is affected. After walking, the pain usually improves. However, it is common for it to be painful when you first take a step after a period of rest. The pain often worsens by the end of the day. Most cases of Heel Pain are caused by damage and thickening of the plantar fascia. Sometimes, the surrounding tissue and the heel bone also become inflamed (swollen).

Causes

While heel pain has many causes, it is usually the result of faulty biomechanics (abnormalities in the way we walk). This can place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues attached to it. The stress may also result from injury, or a bruise incurred while walking, running or jumping on hard surfaces; wearing poorly constructed footwear; or being significantly overweight. Systemic diseases such as arthritis and diabetes can also contribute to heel pain. A common cause of heel pain is the heel spur, a bony growth under the heel bone. There are no visible features on the heel, but a deep painful spot can be found in or around the middle of the sole of the heel (see diagram). Approximately 10 per cent of the population may have heel spurs without any pain. Heel spurs result from strain on the muscles of the foot. This may result from biomechanical imbalance, a condition occurring in many people. Both heel pain and heel spurs are frequently associated with an inflammation of the long band of tissue that connects the heel and the ball of the foot. The inflammation of this arch area is called plantar fasciitis. The inflammation may be aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support, especially in the arch area, and by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an athletic lifestyle.Excessive rolling in of the feet when walking. An inflamed bursa (bursitis), a small, irritated sack of fluid at the back of the heel. A neuroma (a nerve growth). Other soft-tissue growths. Heel bumps or ?pump bumps?, a bone enlargement at the back of the heel bone. Bruises or stress fractures to the heel bone.

Symptoms

Pain in the bottom of the heel is the most common symptom. The pain is often described as a knife-like, pinpoint pain that is worse in the morning and generally improves throughout the day. By the end of the day the pain may be replaced by a dull ache that improves with rest. The pain results from stretching the damaged tissues. For the same reason atheletes' pain occurs during beginning stages of exercise and is relieved over time as warm-up loosens the fascia. Plantar fasciitis onset is usually gradual, only flaring up during exercise. If pain is ignored, it can eventually interfere with walking and overall, plantar fasciitis accounts for about ten percent of all running injuries.

Diagnosis

A podiatrist (doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of foot diseases) will carry out a physical examination, and ask pertinent questions about the pain. The doctor will also ask the patient how much walking and standing the patient does, what type of footwear is worn, and details of the his/her medical history. Often this is enough to make a diagnosis. Sometimes further diagnostic tests are needed, such as blood tests and imaging scans.

Non Surgical Treatment

The proper treatment for your heel pain depends entirely on the specific cause(s) of your symptoms. Therefore, it is critical to understand the cause(s) of your symptoms before beginning any treatment program and if you are unsure, then seeking medical advice is essential to develop the proper treatment program for your condition. Some common treatments are listed and can be performed at home. Keep in mind that not all of these treatments are appropriate for every condition, but they usually a good place to start. Rest, reducing activities for a few days can help to reduce the most severe pain. Ice, applying ice to the heel for 10 minutes several times a day will help to reduce inflammation. Stretching exercises, to lengthen the muscles in the back of the leg, including the hamstrings, will help to ease pain, reduce focal pressures to your feet and assist in recovery. For plantar fasciitis, this may be the best treatment of all. Avoid going barefoot, when without shoes excessive stress and strain is placed on the plantar fascia. Proper shoe gear, supportive shoes that fit and are not too worn along with good arch support help to reduce the stress and strain on the plantar fascia over time. Medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as Motrin (ibuprofen), may help to reduce inflammation. If the pain persists or worsens after a couple of days, an appointment may be necessary where Dr. Talarico may add one or more of these additional modalities to your treatment program. Orthotic b, whether pre-fabricated or custom orthotic is used, these devices can help reduce the underlying structural abnormalities of the foot which have lead to the development of plantar fasciitis. These are often used to limit the recurrence of plantar fasciitis pain. Strapping, a special taping technique to help reduce the strain on the fascia. Injection therapy, in some instances injections are used to reduce the inflammation and reduce pain. Night Splint, this allows you to maintain an extended stretch on the plantar fascia while sleeping. Over time, this has shown to reduce the morning pain which some people experience. Removable Walking Cast, in some case of severe heel pain this may be used to keep your foot immobile for a few weeks allowing it to rest and heal. Physical Therapy may be recommended to aid in pain relief. At The Foot & Ankle Center, PC, Dr Talarico will often utilize two additional in-office modalities, EPAT and MLS Laser Therapy, which are very effective in treating most inflammatory conditions of the foot and ankle, including plantar fasciitis.

Surgical Treatment

Only a relatively few cases of heel pain require surgery. If required, surgery is usually for the removal of a spur, but also may involve release of the plantar fascia, removal of a bursa, or a removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.

Prevention

Pain On The Heel

You should always wear footwear that is appropriate for your environment and day-to-day activities. Wearing high heels when you go out in the evening is unlikely to be harmful. However, wearing them all week at work may damage your feet, particularly if your job involves a lot of walking or standing. Ideally, you should wear shoes with laces and a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes with no heels. Do not walk barefoot on hard ground, particularly while on holiday. Many cases of heel pain occur when a person protects their feet for 50 weeks of the year and then suddenly walks barefoot while on holiday. Their feet are not accustomed to the extra pressure, which causes heel pain. If you do a physical activity, such as running or another form of exercise that places additional strain on your feet, you should replace your sports shoes regularly. Most experts recommend that sports shoes should be replaced after you have done about 500 miles in them. It is also a good idea to always stretch after exercising, and to make strength and flexibility training a part of your regular exercise routine.
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