What Triggers Heel Pain

Heel Discomfort

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of pain on the bottom of the heel. Approximately 2 million patients are treated for this condition every year. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the strong band of tissue that supports the arch of your foot becomes irritated and inflamed. The plantar fascia is a long, thin ligament that lies directly beneath the skin on the bottom of your foot. It connects the heel to the front of your foot, and supports the arch of your foot.




Causes

Plantar fasciitis occurs because of irritation to the thick ligamentous connective tissue that runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue contributes to maintaining the arch of the foot. It is also one of the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. Therefore, the stress placed on the this tissue is tremendous.




Symptoms

When a patient has plantar fasciitis, the connective tissue that forms the arch of the foot becomes inflamed (tendonitis) and degenerative (tendinosis)--these abnormalities cause plantar fasciitis and can make normal activities quite painful. Symptoms of plantar fasciitis are typically worsened early in the morning after sleep. At that time, the arch tissue is tight and simple movements stretch the contracted tissue. As you begin to loosen the foot, the pain usually subsides, but often returns with prolonged standing or walking.




Diagnosis

Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by a health care provider after consideration of a person’s presenting history, risk factors, and clinical examination. Tenderness to palpation along the inner aspect of the heel bone on the sole of the foot may be elicited during the physical examination. The foot may have limited dorsiflexion due to tightness of the calf muscles or the Achilles tendon. Dorsiflexion of the foot may elicit the pain due to stretching of the plantar fascia with this motion. Diagnostic imaging studies are not usually needed to diagnose plantar fasciitis. However, in certain cases a physician may decide imaging studies (such as X-rays, diagnostic ultrasound or MRI) are warranted to rule out other serious causes of foot pain. Bilateral heel pain or heel pain in the context of a systemic illness may indicate a need for a more in-depth diagnostic investigation. Lateral view x-rays of the ankle are the recommended first-line imaging modality to assess for other causes of heel pain such as stress fractures or bone spur development. Plantar fascia aponeurosis thickening at the heel greater than 5 millimeters as demonstrated by ultrasound is consistent with a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. An incidental finding associated with this condition is a heel spur, a small bony calcification on the calcaneus (heel bone), which can be found in up to 50% of those with plantar fasciitis. In such cases, it is the underlying plantar fasciitis that produces the heel pain, and not the spur itself. The condition is responsible for the creation of the spur though the clinical significance of heel spurs in plantar fasciitis remains unclear.




Non Surgical Treatment

Most doctors recommend an initial six- to eight-week program of conservative treatment, including Rest, balanced with stretching exercises to lengthen the heel cord and plantar fascia. Ice massage to the bottom of the foot after activities that trigger heel pain. Avoidance of walking barefoot or wearing slippers or sandals that provide little arch support. A temporary switch to swimming and/or bicycling instead of sports that involve running and jumping. Shoes with soft heels and insoles. Taping the bottom of the injured foot. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brand names), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. Physical therapy using ultrasound, electrical stimulation with corticosteroids or massage techniques. If this conservative treatment does not help, your doctor may recommend that you wear a night splint for six to eight weeks. While you sleep, the night splint will keep your foot in a neutral or slightly flexed (bent) position to help maintain the normal stretch of the plantar fascia and heel cord. If the night splint doesn't work, your doctor may inject corticosteroid medication into the painful area or place your foot in a short leg cast for one to three months. Shock wave therapy, in which focused sound energy is applied to the sore heel, may be recommended for plantar fasciitis. The shock waves are intended to irritate or injure the plantar fascia to promote healing. The overall benefit of this approach is uncertain. Other therapies that have been tried include radiation therapy and botulinum toxin injections. But their effectiveness is unclear. If all else fails, your doctor may suggest surgery. But this is rare, and surgery is not always successful.

Foot Pain




Surgical Treatment

If treatment hasn't worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints, a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as, open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel, endoscopic or minimal incision surgery - where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST) is a fairly new type of non-invasive treatment. Non-invasive means it does not involve making cuts into your body. EST involves using a device to deliver high-energy soundwaves into your heel. The soundwaves can sometimes cause pain, so a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your heel. It is claimed that EST works in two ways. It is thought to, have a "numbing" effect on the nerves that transmit pain signals to your brain, help stimulate and speed up the healing process. However, these claims have not yet been definitively proven. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance about the use of EST for treating plantar fasciitis. NICE states there are no concerns over the safety of EST, but there are uncertainties about how effective the procedure is for treating heel pain. Some studies have reported that EST is more effective than surgery and other non-surgical treatments, while other studies found the procedure to be no better than a placebo (sham treatment).

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