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Heel Pain The Big Causes, Signs And Treatment Possibilities

June 28, 2017
Overview

Painful Heel

Heel pain is often the result of a heel spur, which is a bone growth on the heel bone. Heel spurs are usually located on the underside of the heel bone where it attaches to the plantar fascia, a long band of connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. This connective tissue holds the arch together and acts as a shock absorber during activity. If the plantar fascia is over-stretched from running, wearing poor-fitting shoes or being overweight, pain can result from the stress and inflammation of the tissue pulling on the bone. Over time, the body builds extra bone in response to this stress resulting in heel spurs.

Causes

Many things can cause heel pain. Most commonly seen at our Troy, MI office are heel spurs, which are small growths on the heel bone. Heel pain can be caused from heavy activities and increased weight that put extra pressure on feet. Dr. Weinert often treats heel pain in athletes, runners and women who are pregnant. There are other cases where Dr. Weinert has related a patient?s heel pain to arthritis, stress fractures, fractures, bone tumors, cysts, achilles tendonitis and Haglund's deformity. The main cause of heel pain is usually a biomechanical problem in the foot and it?s, in a nutshell, having a foot out of alignment. There are numerous conditions. One of the most prevalent is called talotarsal dislocation syndrome. What that is in lay terms is you?ve just got a misalignment of your ankle on your heel and as you bear weight you?re getting a collapse of the ankle on the heel causing the foot to be out of alignment. So the plantar fascia, bones, joints, and ligaments receive constant stress. This stress occurs at the point where the plantar fascia (the major tissue that connects your toes to your heel) meets the heel. Many patients explain the pain as being in the middle of the inside of the heel. As a patient bears weight, they get the collapse of the foot and that ligament pulls. And if you think of a rubber band constantly getting pulled on that area of the insertion on the heel, you eventually start getting some micro tears in that ligament and causing inflammation and pain specifically right there in middle area of the heel. Plantar fasciitis is also a common source of heel pain. The plantar fascia, a band of tissue that runs from your heel to your toes, can become strained and inflamed due to overuse and wear and tear. This band of tissue can only withstand so much pressure and when it gives way, the pain can be severe and requires immediate and effective treatment.

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

A podiatrist (doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of foot diseases) will carry out a physical examination, and ask pertinent questions about the pain. The doctor will also ask the patient how much walking and standing the patient does, what type of footwear is worn, and details of the his/her medical history. Often this is enough to make a diagnosis. Sometimes further diagnostic tests are needed, such as blood tests and imaging scans.

Non Surgical Treatment

If you develop heel pain, you can try several methods at home to ease your discomfort. For example rest as much as possible, apply ice to the heel for 10 to 15 minutes twice a day, use over-the-counter pain medications, wear shoes that fit properly, wear night splints, a special device that stretches the foot while you sleep, use heel cups or shoe inserts to reduce pain, If these home care strategies do not ease your pain, you will need to see your doctor. He or she will perform a physical exam and ask you about your symptoms and when they began. Your doctor may also take an X-ray to determine the cause of your heel pain. Once your doctor knows what is causing your pain, he or she will be able to provide you with the appropriate treatment. In many cases, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy. This can help to strengthen the muscles and tendons in your foot, which helps to prevent further injury. If your pain is severe, your doctor may provide you with anti-inflammatory medications. These medications can be injected into the foot or taken by mouth. Your doctor may also recommend that you support your foot as much as possible-either by taping the foot or by using special footwear devices. In very rare cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to correct the problem. However, heel surgery often requires a long recovery time and may not always relieve your foot pain.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is a last resort in the treatment of heel pain. Physicians have developed many procedures in the last 100 years to try to cure heel pain. Most procedures that are commonly used today focus on several areas, remove the bone spur (if one is present), release the plantar fascia (plantar fasciotomy), release pressure on the small nerves in the area. Usually the procedure is done through a small incision on the inside edge of the foot, although some surgeons now perform this type of surgery using an endoscope. An endoscope is a tiny TV camera that can be inserted into a joint or under the skin to allow the surgeon to see the structures involved in the surgery. By using the endoscope, a surgeon can complete the surgery with a smaller incision and presumably less damage to normal tissues. It is unclear whether an endoscopic procedure for this condition is better than the traditional small incision. Surgery usually involves identifying the area where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel and releasing the fascia partially from the bone. If a small spur is present this is removed. The small nerves that travel under the plantar fascia are identified and released from anything that seems to be causing pressure on the nerves. This surgery can usually be done on an outpatient basis. This means you can leave the hospital the same day.

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Prevention

Heel Pain

It is not always possible to prevent heel pain, but there are measures you can take to help avoid further episodes. Being overweight can place excess pressure and strain on your feet, particularly on your heels. This increases the risk of damaging your feet and heels. If you are overweight, losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy, balanced diet can be beneficial for your feet. You can calculate your body mass index (BMI) to find out whether you are a healthy weight for your height and build. To work out your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. A BMI of less than 18.5 means that you are underweight, 18.5-24.9 means that your weight is healthy, 25-29 means that you are overweight, 30-40 means that you are obese, over 40 means that you are morbidly obese. You can also use the BMI healthy weight calculator to work out your BMI.

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