Heel pain is most commonly caused by plantar fasciitis, which is the swelling of the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes at the bottom part of the foot, also known as the plantar fascia. Plantar fasciitis is often described as sharp pain in the middle of the heel, which is typically worse after periods of rest when fascia contracts. The pain usually becomes more bearable as the muscles loosen up during the low-impact walking, but can return even worse after extended periods of walking or standing. The plantar fascia serves as a shock absorber and supports the foot’s arch. Too much tension on the plantar fascia can cause inflammation and swelling. Fortunately in most cases, plantar fasciitis treatment is fairly conservative. Plantar fasciitis exercises, medications and orthotics are usually all that’s needed to manage the pain. Most severe cases may require surgery.
Plantar fasciitis can develop when your feet roll in too far as you take each step. This rolling in, known as over-pronation, can happen for many reasons. It can be due to excessive weight gain, pregnancy, quickly increasing physical activity, tight calf muscles, poor biomechanics or merely wearing unsupportive, flat footwear. When your feet over-pronate, your arches can collapse, putting strain on the tissues in the bottom of your foot.
Plantar fasciitis is characterized by the following signs and symptoms. Acute plantar fasciitis, pain is usually worse in the morning but may improve when activity continues; if the plantar fasciitis is severe, activity will exacerbate the pain, pain will worsen during the day and may radiate to calf or forefoot, pain may be described anywhere from “minor pulling” sensation, to “burning”, or to “knife-like”, the plantar fascia may be taut or thickened, passive stretching of the plantar fascia or the patient standing on their toes may exacerbate symptoms, acute tenderness deep in the heel-pad along the insertion of the plantar aponeurosis at the medial calcaneal tuberosity and along the length of the plantar fascia, may have localized swelling. Chronic plantar fasciitis, plantar fasciitis is classified as “chronic” if it has not resolved after six months, pain occurs more distally along the aponeurosis and spreads into the Achilles tendon.
During the physical exam, your doctor checks for points of tenderness in your foot. The location of your pain can help determine its cause. Usually no tests are necessary. The diagnosis is made based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally your doctor may suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn’t being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve. Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment of plantar fasciitis begins with first-line strategies, which you can begin at home. Stretching exercises. Exercises that stretch out the calf muscles help ease pain and assist with recovery. Avoid going barefoot. When you walk without shoes, you put undue strain and stress on your plantar fascia. Ice. Putting an ice pack on your heel for 20 minutes several times a day helps reduce inflammation. Place a thin towel between the ice and your heel,do not apply ice directly to the skin. Limit activities. Cut down on extended physical activities to give your heel a rest. Shoe modifications. Wearing supportive shoes that have good arch support and a slightly raised heel reduces stress on the plantar fascia. Medications. Oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce pain and inflammation. If you still have pain after several weeks, see your foot and ankle surgeon, who may add one or more of these treatment approaches. Padding and strapping. Placing pads in the shoe softens the impact of walking. Strapping helps support the foot and reduce strain on the fascia. Orthotic devices. Custom orthotic devices that fit into your shoe help correct the underlying structural abnormalities causing the plantar fasciitis. Injection therapy. In some cases, corticosteroid injections are used to help reduce the inflammation and relieve pain. Removable walking cast. A removable walking cast may be used to keep your foot immobile for a few weeks to allow it to rest and heal. Night splint. Wearing a night splint allows you to maintain an extended stretch of the plantar fascia while sleeping. This may help reduce the morning pain experienced by some patients. Physical therapy. Exercises and other physical therapy measures may be used to help provide relief.
Surgery should be reserved for patients who have made every effort to fully participate in conservative treatments, but continue to have pain from plantar fasciitis. Patients should fit the following criteria. Symptoms for at least 9 months of treatment. Participation in daily treatments (exercises, stretches, etc.). If you fit these criteria, then surgery may be an option in the treatment of your plantar fasciitis. Unfortunately, surgery for treatment of plantar fasciitis is not as predictable as a surgeon might like. For example, surgeons can reliably predict that patients with severe knee arthritis will do well after knee replacement surgery about 95% of the time. Those are very good results. Unfortunately, the same is not true of patients with plantar fasciitis.
Every time your foot strikes the ground, the plantar fascia is stretched. You can reduce the strain and stress on the plantar fascia by following these simple instructions: Avoid running on hard or uneven ground, lose any excess weight, and wear shoes and orthotics that support your arch to prevent over-stretching of the plantar fascia.