What Is Heel Pain

Foot Pain

Overview

The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band that runs the length of the sole of the foot. The plantar fascia helps maintain the complex arch system of the foot and plays a role in one's balance and the various phases of gait. Injury to this tissue, called plantar fasciitis, is one of the most disabling running injuries and also one of the most difficult to resolve. Plantar fasciitis represents the fourth most common injury to the lower limb and represents 8 -10% of all presenting injuries to sports clinics (Ambrosius 1992, Nike 1989). Rehabilitation can be a long and frustrating process. The use of preventative exercises and early recognition of danger signals are critical in the avoidance of this injury.




Causes

Training on improper, hard and/or irregular surfaces as well as excessive track work in spiked shoes, or steep hill running, can stress the plantar fascia past its limits of elasticity, leading to injury. Finally, failure in the early season to warm up gradually gives the athlete insufficient time for the structures of the foot to re-acclimate and return to a proper fitness level for intensive exercise. Such unprepared and repeated trauma causes microscopic tearing, which may only be detected once full-blown plantar fasciitis and accompanying pain and debilitation have resulted. If the level of damage to the plantar fascia is significant, an inflammatory reaction of the heel bone can produce spike-like projections of new bone, known as heel spurs. Indeed, plantar fasciitis has occasionally been refereed to as heel spur syndrome, though such spurs are not the cause of the initial pain but are instead a further symptom of the problem. While such spurs are sometimes painless, in other cases they cause pain or disability in the athlete, and surgical intervention to remove them may be required. A dull, intermittent pain in the heel is typical, sometimes progressing to a sharp, sustained discomfort. Commonly, pain is worse in the morning or after sitting, later decreasing as the patient begins walking, though standing or walking for long periods usually brings renewal of the pain.




Symptoms

The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the bottom of your foot, especially at the front or centre of the heel bone, pain that is worse when first rising in the morning (called "first-step pain"), when first standing up after any long period of sitting, or after increased levels of activity especially in non-supportive shoes. Seek medical advice about plantar fasciitis if you have heel pain or pain in the bottom of your foot, especially when you get up in the morning, that does not respond to treatment or if there is redness or bruising in the heel.




Diagnosis

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show tenderness on the bottom of your foot, flat feet or high arches, mild foot swelling or redness, stiffness or tightness of the arch in the bottom of your foot. X-rays may be taken to rule out other problems.




Non Surgical Treatment

Shoe therapy, finding and wearing shoes that allow your feet to be in their natural position, is the most important treatment for plantar fasciosis. Shoes that possess a flat heel, are wide in the toe box, lack toe spring, and have flexible soles are most appropriate for this foot problem. An increasing number of shoe companies are producing shoes with these design characteristics, but shoes that include all these features are still difficult to find. For some suggested footwear models, see our clinic’s shoe list. Most conventional footwear can be modified by stretching the shoe’s upper, stretching out the toe spring, removing the shoe’s liner, and cutting the shoe at certain key points to allow more room for your foot. Visit your podiatrist to help you with these shoe modifications. Correct Toes is another helpful conservative treatment method for plantar fasciosis. Correct Toes addresses the root cause of your plantar fasciosis by properly aligning your big toe and reducing the tension created by your abductor hallucis longus on the blood vessels that feed and "cleanse" the tissues of your plantar fascia. Your plantar fasciosis-related pain will diminish when the dead tissue is washed away. A rehabilitation program, which includes targeted stretches and other exercises, for your foot may be helpful too. Dietary changes and aerobic exercise are particularly important for overweight individuals who have plantar fasciosis. Water aerobics may be most appropriate for those individuals whose pain does not allow them to walk or cycle. Physical therapy may be another helpful treatment modality for this problem, and includes ultrasound, electrical stimulation, contrast baths, and range-of-motion exercises. Massage, acupuncture, reflexology, and magnet therapy are holistic approaches that may be helpful.

Foot Pain




Surgical Treatment

In very rare cases plantar fascia surgery is suggested, as a last resort. In this case the surgeon makes an incision into the ligament, partially cutting the plantar fascia to release it. If a heel spur is present, the surgeon will remove it. Plantar Fasciitis surgery should always be considered the last resort when all the conventional treatment methods have failed to succeed. Endoscopic plantar fasciotomy (EPF) is a form of surgery whereby two incisions are made around the heel and the ligament is being detached from the heel bone allowing the new ligament to develop in the same place. In some cases the surgeon may decide to remove the heel spur itself, if present. Just like any type of surgery, Plantar Fascia surgery comes with certain risks and side effects. For example, the arch of the foot may drop and become weak. Wearing an arch support after surgery is therefore recommended. Heel spur surgeries may also do some damage to veins and arteries of your foot that allow blood supply in the area. This will increase the time of recovery.




Stretching Exercises

The following exercises are commonly prescribed to patients with this condition. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 2 - 3 times daily and only provided they do not cause or increase symptoms. Your physiotherapist can advise when it is appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate and advanced exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this stretch in long sitting with your leg to be stretched in front of you. Your knee and back should be straight and a towel or rigid band placed around your foot as demonstrated. Using your foot, ankle and the towel, bring your toes towards your head until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf, Achilles tendon, plantar fascia or leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times at a mild to moderate stretch provided the exercise is pain free. Resistance Band Calf Strengthening. Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your foot as demonstrated and your foot and ankle held up towards your head. Slowly move your foot and ankle down against the resistance band as far as possible and comfortable without pain, tightening your calf muscle. Very slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 10 - 20 times provided the exercise is pain free.

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