Do You Really Understand Heel Aches?

Overview

Heel Pain

Painful heels (Heel Pain)are the number 4 concern bringing patients

into the offices of many family doctors and the number one concern bringing patients to the offices of podiatric physicians (foot doctors).

Causes

Heel pain can have many causes but the vast majority is caused by plantar fasciitis. Plantar means, ?bottom of the foot.? Fascia is a ligament or ?bundle? of ligaments. The plantar fascia is the thick ligament that helps to hold up the foot and provide spring in our step. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia and causes more than 90% of heel pain among adults in the US. Plantar fasciitis can be acute, that is, as simple strain of the ligament but often is chronic, hanging on for months if not years. Why does that happen? The answer is poor foot mechanics, the foot sinking down too far allowing the plantar fascia to overstretch with each step taken.

Symptoms

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis vary, but the classic symptom is pain after rest–when you first get out of bed in the morning, or when you get up after sitting down for a while during the day. The pain usually diminishes after a few minutes of walking, sometimes even disappearing, but the pain is commonly felt again the longer you’re on the foot. Fasciitis can be aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support, especially in the arch area, and by the chronic irritation of long-periods of standing, especially on concrete, by being overweight. It doesn’t help that fascia doesn’t heal particularly quickly because it has relatively poor circulation (which is why it’s white in colour).

Diagnosis

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

Treatment for plantar fasciitis – the vast majority of patients recover with conservative treatments (designed to avoid radical medical therapeutic measures or operative procedures) within months. Heel with ice-pack. Home care such as rest, ice-pack use, proper-fitting footwear and foot supports are often enough to ease heel pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – medications with analgesic (pain reducing), antipyretic (fever reducing) effects. In higher doses they also have anti-inflammatory effects, they reduce inflammation (swelling). Non-steroidal distinguishes NSAIDs from other drugs which contain steroids, which are also anti-inflammatory. NSAIDs are non-narcotic (they do not induce stupor). For patients with plantar fasciitis they may help with pain and inflammation. Corticosteroids, a corticosteroid solution is applied over the affected area on the skin; an electric current is used to help absorption. Alternatively, the doctor may decide to inject the medication. However, multiple injections may result in a weakened plantar fascia, significantly increasing the risk of rupture and shrinkage of the fat pad covering the heel bone. Some doctors may use ultrasound to help them make sure they have injected in the right place Corticosteroids are usually recommended when NSAIDs have not helped. Physical therapy, a qualified/specialized physical therapist (UK: physiotherapist) can teach the patient exercises which stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon, as well as strengthening the lower leg muscles, resulting in better stabilization of the ankle and heel. The patient may also be taught how to apply athletic taping, which gives the bottom of the foot better support. Night splints, the splint is fitted to the calf and foot; the patient keeps it on during sleep. Overnight the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon are held in a lengthened position; this stretches them. Orthotics, insoles and orthotics (assistive devices) can be useful to correct foot faults, as well as cushioning and cradling the arch during the healing process. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy, sound waves are aimed at the affected area to encourage and stimulate healing. This type of therapy is only recommended for chronic (long-term) cases, which have not responded to conservative therapy.

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

Heel Pain

Make sure you wear appropriate supportive shoes. Don’t over-train in sports. Make sure you warm up, cool down and undertake an exercise regime that helps maintain flexibility. Manage your weight, obesity is a factor in causing plantar fasciitis. Avoid walking and running on hard surfaces if you are prone to pain. You should follow the recognized management protocol “RICED” rest, ice, compression, elevation and diagnosis. Rest, keep off the injured ankle as much as possible. Ice, applied for 20 minutes at a time every hour as long as swelling persists. Compression, support the ankle and foot with a firmly (not tightly) wrapped elastic bandage. Elevation, keep foot above heart level to minimize bruising and swelling. Diagnosis. Consult a medical professional (such as a Podiatrist or doctor) especially if you are worried about the injury, or if the pain or swelling gets worse. If the pain or swelling has not gone down significantly within 48 hours, also seek treatment. An accurate diagnosis is essential for proper rehabilitation of moderate to severe injuries.

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