The heel is the first bone to contact the ground when walking and takes the full force of impact and the resulting shock of bearing weight during motion. 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. The most common cause of Heel Pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a stretching of the plantar fascia, a ligament that runs from the ball of foot through the arch and is attached to the heel. It is that attachment which becomes aggravated and typically causes pain after being on your feet for lengths of time. Abnormal motion of the foot (pronation) is one cause of plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs, which are abnormal bone growths coming off the heel, can also cause heel pain. Other causes include repetitive stress or shock to the heel, standing for prolonged periods or osteoarthritis. To prevent heel pain, always wear properly fitting shoes, place insoles or inserts in your shoes to help control abnormal foot motion, maintain a healthy weight, exercise and do foot stretches as they have been shown to decrease the incidence of heel pain.
Some of the many causes of heel pain can include abnormal walking style (gait), such as rolling the feet inwards. Obesity. Ill-fitting shoes. Standing, running or jumping on hard surfaces. Injury to the heel, such as stress fractures. Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa, bursae are small sacs that contain fluid to lubricate moving parts, such as joints and muscles). Neuroma (nerve enlargement). Certain disorders, including diabetes and arthritis.
Usually worse with the first few steps in the morning or at the initial point of activity. The latter usually gets better with continued activity (squeaky hinge analogy). Walking, running, sprinting, hill running and jumping will increase the pain. Often, the natural response is to walk on the outside of the foot – in supination – to lessen the stress on the plantar fascia – resulting in new problems.
The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.
Non Surgical Treatment
Shoes, orthoses, splinting and/or immobilization form the cornerstone for successful functional management of plantar fasciitis.When you take the overuse nature of plantar fasciitis into account and attempt to re-establish the windlass mechanism of the foot, there is an enhanced potential for success. Unfortunately, too little attention has been directed to appropriately managing the shoes worn during treatment for plantar fasciitis. Emphasising motion control and stability type athletic shoes (that provide a firm heel cup, instep rigidity, longitudinal integrity and a well-integrated shoe upper) can help decrease excess eccentric tissue strain. The shoe also serves as a vital and functional link between an orthotic and the foot. Orthoses have long been considered to be a reliable method for treating plantar fasciitis. Considerable debate has been waged over the benefits of over-the-counter (OTC), prefabricated and prescription foot and/or ankle orthoses. Heel cushions, heel cups and cushioning pads appear to provide immediate pain relief for many people who have plantar fasciitis.This relief is frequently short-lived and requires other treatment modalities for success.Neutral position taping and strapping of the foot provides temporary symptomatic relief of pain caused by plantar fasciitis. Although the functional benefits are temporary and likely do not last longer than 10 minutes with exercise, the soft tissue compression and symptomatic relief afforded by the strapping can last for nearly a week.
It is rare to need an operation for heel pain. It would only be offered if all simpler treatments have failed and, in particular, you are a reasonable weight for your height and the stresses on your heel cannot be improved by modifying your activities or footwear. The aim of an operation is to release part of the plantar fascia from the heel bone and reduce the tension in it. Many surgeons would also explore and free the small nerves on the inner side of your heel as these are sometimes trapped by bands of tight tissue. This sort of surgery can be done through a cut about 3cm long on the inner side of your heel. Recently there has been a lot of interest in doing the operation by keyhole surgery, but this has not yet been proven to be effective and safe. Most people who have an operation are better afterwards, but it can take months to get the benefit of the operation and the wound can take a while to heal fully. Tingling or numbness on the side of the heel may occur after operation.
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.