What Is Pain In The Heel And Methods To Successfully Treat It

Plantar Fascitis

Overview

The plantar fascia is a strong, relatively inflexible, fibrous ligament band that runs through the bottom of the foot. That band helps to keep the complex arch system of the foot, absorb shock, plays a role in body balance and in the various phases of gait. The band transmits your weight across the bottom of the foot with each step you take. When the heel of the trailing leg starts to get off the ground, the band bears tension that is approximately twice the body weight. The tension on the band at this moment is even greater if the calf muscles are not flexible enough.


Causes

A variety of causes exist for plantar fasciitis. Some of the most common causes include excessive weight load on the foot due to obesity or prolonged standing, mechanical imbalances of the foot, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, sudden increase in body weight (e.g., pregnancy), sudden increase in walking or running, tight calf muscles is a very common cause of the disorder, wearing shoes with poor support, including flip-flops. Another cause of pain is the shortening of the plantar fascia overnight due to the ankle bending, causing the toes to point towards the ground. The plantar fascia stretches in the morning when you stand. The act of lengthening it causes a great deal of pain. However, this is not limited to an overnight occurrence, it can happen any time the foot is flexed (i.e., pointed) for extended periods of time. For example, driving in the car for long periods can cause fasciitis in the right foot, which steps on the accelerator.


Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis generally occurs in one foot. Bilateral plantar fasciitis is unusual and tends to be the result of a systemic arthritic condition that is exceptionally rare among athletes. Males suffer from a somewhat greater incidence of plantar fasciitis than females, perhaps as a result of greater weight coupled with greater speed and ground impact, as well as less flexibility in the foot. Typically, the sufferer of plantar fasciitis experiences pain upon rising after sleep, particularly the first step out of bed. Such pain is tightly localized at the bony landmark on the anterior medial tubercle of the calcaneus. In some cases, pain may prevent the athlete from walking in a normal heel-toe gait, causing an irregular walk as means of compensation. Less common areas of pain include the forefoot, Achilles tendon, or subtalar joint. After a brief period of walking, the pain usually subsides, but returns again either with vigorous activity or prolonged standing or walking. On the field, an altered gait or abnormal stride pattern, along with pain during running or jumping activities are tell-tale signs of plantar fasciitis and should be given prompt attention. Further indications of the injury include poor dorsiflexion (lifting the forefoot off the ground) due to a shortened gastroc complex, (muscles of the calf). Crouching in a full squat position with the sole of the foot flat on the ground can be used as a test, as pain will preclude it for the athlete suffering from plantar fasciitis, causing an elevation of the heel due to tension in the gastroc complex.


Diagnosis

To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.


Non Surgical Treatment

Reducing inflammation in the plantar fascia ligament is an important part of treatment, though this does not address the underlying damage to the ligament. Initial home treatment includes staying off your feet and applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes three or four times a day to reduce swelling. You can also try reducing or changing your exercise activities. Using arch supports in your shoes and doing stretching exercises may also help to relieve pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen (i.e. Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (i.e. Aleve), are often used to reduce inflammation in the ligament. If home treatments and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs don’t ease the pain, an injection of a corticosteroid directly into the damaged section of the ligament can be given. Your doctor can do this in his or her office. Your doctor may use an ultrasound device to help determine the best place for the injection. Corticosteroids can also be administered on the skin of your heel or the arch of your foot, and then a painless electrical current is applied to let the steroid pass through your skin and into the muscle. Physical therapy is an important part of treatment for planter fasciitis. It can help stretch your plantar fascia and Achilles tendons. A physical therapist can also show you exercises to strengthen your lower leg muscles, helping to stabilize your walk and lessen the workload on your plantar fascia. If pain continues and other methods aren’t working, your doctor may recommend extracorporeal shock wave therapy. Sound waves are bombarded against your heel to stimulate healing within the ligament. This treatment can result in bruises, swelling, pain, and numbness, and has not been proven to be consistently effective in relieving symptoms.

Painful Heel


Surgical Treatment

If you consider surgery, your original diagnosis should be confirmed by the surgeon first. In addition, supporting diagnostic evidence (such as nerve-conduction studies) should be gathered to rule out nerve entrapment, particularly of the first branch of the lateral plantar nerve and the medial plantar nerve. Blood tests should consist of an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), rheumatoid factor, human leukocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27), and uric acid. It’s important to understand that surgical treatment of bone spurs rarely improves plantar fasciitis pain. And surgery for plantar fasciitis can cause secondary complications-a troubling condition known as lateral column syndrome.


Prevention

Making sure your ankle, Achilles tendon, and calf muscles are flexible can help prevent plantar fasciitis. Stretch your plantar fascia in the morning before you get out of bed. Doing activities in moderation can also help.

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