What May Cause Heel Pain

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Do you have sharp, stabbing, and/or aching pain on the bottom of your heel or arch?

Is the pain more severe when you first get up in the morning or when you first start walking after rest? If this describes your pain then you probably suffer from a condition known as PLANTAR FASCIITIS. It sounds complicated, but plantar fasciitis is actually one of the most common foot problems. In the past plantar fasciitis has been called by other names, such as heel spur syndrome, bone spurs or a stone bruise on the heel. The plantar fascia is a long thick ligament that runs along the arch of your foot from your heel bone (the calcaneus) to the ball of the foot. The job of the plantar fascia is to help support your arch. When the fascia becomes inflamed and painful we call this PLANTAR FASCIITIS. The pain from plantar fasciitis most commonly occurs near the attachment of the fascia to the calcaneus (heel bone), which is why most people who suffer from plantar fasciitis have pain on the bottom or inside of the heel. However, the pain can be anywhere along the fascia from the heel to the ball of the foot.




Causes

Excessive stretching of the plantar fascia can result in microtrauma of this structure either along its course or where it inserts onto the medial calcaneal tuberosity. This microtrauma, if repetitive, can result in chronic degeneration of the plantar fascia fibers. The loading of the degenerative and healing tissue at the plantar fascia may cause significant plantar pain, particularly with the first few steps after sleep or other periods of inactivity. The term fasciitis may, in fact, be something of a misnomer, because the disease is actually a degenerative process that occurs with or without inflammatory changes, which may include fibroblastic proliferation. This has been proven from biopsies of fascia from people undergoing surgery for plantar fascia release.




Symptoms

The most common symptom is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. The heel pain may be dull or sharp. The bottom of the foot may also ache or burn. The pain is often worse in the morning when you take your first steps, after standing or sitting for awhile, when climbing stairs, after intense activity. The pain may develop slowly over time, or come on suddenly after intense activity.




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

Plantar fasciitis treatment can be conservative (non-surgical) or invasive (surgical). Among the non-surgical ways to manage plantar fasciitis involves stretching and icing exercises. A night splint which help stretch the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia overnight, so that they can be more easily stretched during the morning. Orthotics that can be custom-made for the feet can also distribute tension on the feet more consistently. Corticosteroid is injected into the affected area to relieve pain and decrease inflammation. Doctors may also use extracorporeal shockwave therapy before considering plantar fasciitis surgery. During the therapy, sound waves are used to stimulate the affected area and eventually heal it. Physical therapy incorporation, deep massage stretching, and other modalities can at times be a helpful adjunct treatment. Surgery for plantar fasciitis is only considered when all other conservative treatments have failed.

Heel Discomfort




Surgical Treatment

Surgery for plantar fasciitis can be very successful in the right patients. While there are potential complications, about 70-80% of patients will find relief after plantar fascia release surgery. This may not be perfect, but if plantar fasciitis has been slowing you down for a year or more, it may well be worth these potential risks of surgery. New surgical techniques allow surgery to release the plantar fascia to be performed through small incisions using a tiny camera to locate and cut the plantar fascia. This procedure is called an endoscopic plantar fascia release. Some surgeons are concerned that the endoscopic plantar fascia release procedure increases the risk of damage to the small nerves of the foot. While there is no definitive answer that this endoscopic plantar fascia release is better or worse than a traditional plantar fascia release, most surgeons still prefer the traditional approach.




Prevention

Plantar fasciitis can be a nagging problem, which gets worse and more difficult to treat the longer it's present. To prevent plantar fasciitis, run on soft surfaces, keep mileage increases to less than 10 percent per week, and visit a specialty running shop to make sure you're wearing the proper shoes for your foot type and gait. It's also important to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon.

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