Heel Ache

Overview

Foot Pain

Heel pain is most often caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition that is sometimes also called heel spur syndrome when a spur is present. Heel Pain may also be due to other causes, such as a stress fracture, tendonitis, arthritis, nerve irritation, or rarely, a cyst. Because there are several potential causes, it is important to have heel pain properly diagnosed. A foot and ankle surgeon is able to distinguish between all the possibilities and determine the underlying source of your heel pain.

Causes

he most common cause of heel pain is over pronation, this is when your foot rotates in too much as you walk. You really need to treat the underlying cause of the heel pain as soon as possible to prevent any further damage to the plantar fascia. Excessive load on the foot from obesity is a major cause of plantar fasciitis. Which is why this condition is common in middle aged and over weight adults. A sudden increase in weight, such as pregnancy can also lead to plantar fascitis. A sudden increase in walking or a sporting activity can also be a contributing factor. A classic example of when this condition can develop is when a post man has returned to work after a period away from the job. Tight plantar fascia (this is often caused by tight calf muscles). Excessive flattening of the arch on weight bearing i.e. flat feet. People with flat feet are more at risk of developing this condition. Biomechanical problems (walking abnormalities) is a major cause of plantar fasciitis. Different types of arthritis can also lead to this condition, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Symptoms

Symptoms include a dull ache which is felt most of the time with episodes of a sharp pain in the centre of the heel or on the inside margin of the heel. Often the pain is worse on first rising in the morning and after rest and is aggravated by prolonged weight bearing & thin soled shoes.

Diagnosis

After you have described your foot symptoms, your doctor will want to know more details about your pain, your medical history and lifestyle, including. Whether your pain is worse at specific times of the day or after specific activities. Any recent injury to the area. Your medical and orthopedic history, especially any history of diabetes, arthritis or injury to your foot or leg. Your age and occupation. Your recreational activities, including sports and exercise programs. The type of shoes you usually wear, how well they fit, and how frequently you buy a new pair. Your doctor will examine you, including. An evaluation of your gait. While you are barefoot, your doctor will ask you to stand still and to walk in order to evaluate how your foot moves as you walk. An examination of your feet. Your doctor may compare your feet for any differences between them. Then your doctor may examine your painful foot for signs of tenderness, swelling, discoloration, muscle weakness and decreased range of motion. A neurological examination. The nerves and muscles may be evaluated by checking strength, sensation and reflexes. In addition to examining you, your health care professional may want to examine your shoes. Signs of excessive wear in certain parts of a shoe can provide valuable clues to problems in the way you walk and poor bone alignment. Depending on the results of your physical examination, you may need foot X-rays or other diagnostic tests.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment for heel pain usually involves using a combination of techniques, such as stretches and painkillers, to relieve pain and speed up recovery. Most cases of heel pain get better within 12 months. Surgery may be recommended as a last resort if your symptoms don't improve after this time. Only 1 in 20 people with heel pain will need surgery. Whenever possible, rest the affected foot by not walking long distances and standing for long periods. However, you should regularly stretch your feet and calves using exercises such as those described. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, can be used to help relieve pain. Some people also find applying an ice pack to the affected heel for 5-10 minutes can help relieve pain and inflammation. However, do not apply an ice pack directly to your skin. Instead, wrap it in a towel. If you do not have an ice pack, you can use a packet of frozen vegetables. Exercises designed to stretch both your calf muscles and your plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs under the sole of your foot) should help relieve pain and improve flexibility in the affected foot. A number of stretching exercises are described below. It's usually recommended that you do the exercises on both legs, even if only one of your heels is affected by pain. This will improve your balance and stability, and help relieve heel pain. Keep a long towel beside your bed. Before you get out of bed in the morning, loop the towel around your foot and use it to pull your toes towards your body, while keeping your knee straight. Repeat three times on each foot. Place both hands on a wall at shoulder height, with one of your feet in front of the other. The front foot should be about 30cm (12 inches) away from the wall. With your front knee bent and your back leg straight, lean towards the wall until you feel a tightening in the calf muscles of your back leg. Then relax. Repeat this exercise 10 times before switching legs and repeating the cycle. You should practise wall stretches twice a day. Stand on a step of your stairs facing upstairs, using your banister for support. Your feet should be slightly apart, with your heels hanging off the back of the step. Lower your heels until you feel a tightening in your calves. Hold this position for about 40 seconds, before raising your heels back to the starting position. Repeat this procedure six times, at least twice a day. Sit on a chair, with your knees bent at right angles. Turn your feet sideways so your heels are touching and your toes are pointing in opposite directions. Lift the toes of the affected foot upwards, while keeping the heel firmly on the floor. You should feel your calf muscles and Achilles tendon (the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your calf muscle) tighten. Hold this position for several seconds and then relax. Repeat this procedure 10 times, five to six times a day. While seated, roll the arch of your foot (the curved bottom part of the foot between your toes and heel) over a round object, such as a rolling pin, tennis ball or drinks can. Some people find that using a chilled can from their fridge has the added benefit of helping to relieve pain. Move your foot and ankle in all directions over the object for several minutes. Repeat the exercise twice a day. Your GP or podiatrist may advise you to change your footwear. You should avoid wearing flat-soled shoes, because they will not provide your heel with support and could make your heel pain worse. Ideally, you should wear shoes that cushion your heels and provide a good level of support to the arches of your feet. For women wearing high heels, and for men wearing heeled boots or brogues, can provide short- to medium-term pain relief, as they help reduce pressure on the heels. However, these types of shoes may not be suitable in the long term, because they can lead to further episodes of heel pain. Your GP or podiatrist can advise on footwear. Orthoses are insoles that fit inside your shoe to support your foot and help your heel recover. You can buy orthoses off-the-shelf from sports shops and larger pharmacies. Alternatively, your podiatrist should be able to recommend a supplier. If your pain does not respond to treatment and keeps recurring, or if you have an abnormal foot shape or structure, custom-made orthoses are available. These are specifically made to fit the shape of your feet. However, there is currently no evidence to suggest that custom-made orthoses are more effective than those bought off-the-shelf. An alternative to using orthoses is to have your heel strapped with sports strapping (zinc oxide) tape, which helps relieve pressure on your heel. Your GP or podiatrist can teach you how to apply the tape yourself. In some cases, night splints can also be useful. Most people sleep with their toes pointing down, which means tissue inside the heel is squeezed together. Night splints, which look like boots, are designed to keep your toes and feet pointing up while you are asleep. This will stretch both your Achilles tendon and your plantar fascia, which should help speed up your recovery time. Night splints are usually only available from specialist shops and online retailers. Again, your podiatrist should be able to recommend a supplier. If treatment hasn't helped relieve your painful symptoms, your GP may recommend corticosteroid injections. Corticosteroids are a type of medication that have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. They have to be used sparingly because overuse can cause serious side effects, such as weight gain and high blood pressure (hypertension). As a result, it is usually recommended that no more than three corticosteroid injections are given within a year in any part of the body. Before having a corticosteroid injection, a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your foot so you don't feel any pain.

Surgical Treatment

Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.

Prevention

Painful Heel

Prevention of heel pain involves reducing the stress on that part of the body. Tips include. Barefeet, when on hard ground make sure you are wearing shoes. Bodyweight, if you are overweight there is more stress on the heels when you walk or run. Try to lose weight. Footwear, footwear that has material which can absorb some of the stress placed on the heel may help protect it. Examples include heel pads. Make sure your shoes fit properly and do not have worn down heels or soles. If you notice a link between a particular pair of shoes and heel pain, stop wearing them. Rest, if you are especially susceptible to heel pain, try to spend more time resting and less time on your feet. It is best to discuss this point with a specialized health care professional. Sports, warm up properly before engaging in activities that may place lots of stress on the heels. Make sure you have proper sports shoes for your task.

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