What Exactly Causes Heel Pain

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Pain In The Heel

Overview

At the bottom of your foot there's a thick band of connective tissue called the plantar fascia or arch tendon. It connects your heel bone (calcaneus) to the front of your foot. If the plantar fascia becomes irritated and sore from overuse, it's known as plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis sometimes can be mistaken for heel spurs, which is a different kind of injury with similar symptoms. Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain in runners, dancers, and athletes in sports that involve a lot of running or jumping. You don't have to be active to get plantar fasciitis. It can affect anyone. People who are overweight, pregnant women, people whose jobs involve a lot of standing, and people who wear worn-out shoes all have a higher chance of getting plantar fasciitis.




Causes

Each time we take a step forward, all of our body weight first rests on the heel of one foot. As our weight moves forward, the entire foot begins to bear the body's weight, and the foot flattens and this places a great deal of pressure and strain on the plantar fascia. There is very little elasticity to the plantar fascia, so as it stretches only slightly; it pulls on its attachment to the heel. If the foot is properly aligned this pull causes no problems. However, if the foot is "pronated" (the foot rolls outward at the ankle, causing a break down of the inner side of the shoe), the arch falls excessively, and this causes an abnormal stretching of the relatively inflexible plantar fascia, which in turn pulls abnormally hard on the heel. The same pathology occurs with "supination" (the rolling inward of the foot, causing a break down of the outer side of the shoe). Supinated feet are relatively in flexible; usually have a high arch, and a short or tight plantar fascia. Thus as weight is transferred from the heel to the remainder of the foot, the tight plantar fascia hardly stretches at all, and pulls with great force on its attachment to the heel.




Symptoms

Most people with plantar fasciitis have pain when they take their first steps after they get out of bed or sit for a long time. You may have less stiffness and pain after you take a few steps. But your foot may hurt more as the day goes on. It may hurt the most when you climb stairs or after you stand for a long time. If you have foot pain at night, you may have a different problem, such as arthritis , or a nerve problem such as tarsal tunnel syndrome.




Diagnosis

Your doctor can usually diagnose plantar fasciitis just by talking to you and examining your feet. Rarely, tests are needed if the diagnosis is uncertain or to rule out other possible causes of heel pain. These can include X-rays of the heel or an ultrasound scan of the fascia. An ultrasound scan usually shows thickening and swelling of the fascia in plantar fasciitis.




Non Surgical Treatment

To alleviate the stress and pain on the fascia, the person can take shorter steps and avoid walking barefoot. Activities that involve foot impact, such as jogging, should be avoided. The most effective treatments include the use of in-shoe heel and arch cushioning with calf-stretching exercises and night splints that stretch the calf and plantar fascia while the patient sleeps. Prefabricated or custom-made foot orthotics may also alleviate fascial tension and symptoms. Other treatments may include activity modifications, NSAIDs, weight loss in obese patients, cold and ice massage therapy, and occasional corticosteroid injections. However, because corticosteroid injections can predispose to plantar fasciosis, many clinicians limit these injections. For recalcitrant cases, physical therapy, oral corticosteroids, and cast immobilization should be used before surgical intervention is considered. A newer form of treatment for recalcitrant types of plantar fasciosis is extracorporeal pulse activation therapy (EPAT), in which low-frequency pulse waves are delivered locally using a handheld applicator. The pulsed pressure wave is a safe, noninvasive technique that stimulates metabolism and enhances blood circulation, which helps regenerate damaged tissue and accelerate healing. EPAT is being used at major medical centers.

Plantar Fascia




Surgical Treatment

In very rare cases plantar fascia surgery is suggested, as a last resort. In this case the surgeon makes an incision into the ligament, partially cutting the plantar fascia to release it. If a heel spur is present, the surgeon will remove it. Plantar Fasciitis surgery should always be considered the last resort when all the conventional treatment methods have failed to succeed. Endoscopic plantar fasciotomy (EPF) is a form of surgery whereby two incisions are made around the heel and the ligament is being detached from the heel bone allowing the new ligament to develop in the same place. In some cases the surgeon may decide to remove the heel spur itself, if present. Just like any type of surgery, Plantar Fascia surgery comes with certain risks and side effects. For example, the arch of the foot may drop and become weak. Wearing an arch support after surgery is therefore recommended. Heel spur surgeries may also do some damage to veins and arteries of your foot that allow blood supply in the area. This will increase the time of recovery.




Stretching Exercises

You may begin exercising the muscles of your foot right away by gently stretching them as follows. Prone hip extension, Lie on your stomach with your legs straight out behind you. Tighten up your buttocks muscles and lift one leg off the floor about 8 inches. Keep your knee straight. Hold for 5 seconds. Then lower your leg and relax. Do 3 sets of 10. Towel stretch, Sit on a hard surface with one leg stretched out in front of you. Loop a towel around your toes and the ball of your foot and pull the towel toward your body keeping your knee straight. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times. When the towel stretch becomes too easy, you may begin doing the standing calf stretch. Standing calf stretch, Facing a wall, put your hands against the wall at about eye level. Keep one leg back with the heel on the floor, and the other leg forward. Turn your back foot slightly inward (as if you were pigeon-toed) as you slowly lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times. Do this exercise several times each day. Sitting plantar fascia stretch, Sit in a chair and cross one foot over your other knee. Grab the base of your toes and pull them back toward your leg until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold 15 seconds and repeat 3 times. When you can stand comfortably on your injured foot, you can begin standing to stretch the bottom of your foot using the plantar fascia stretch. Achilles stretch, Stand with the ball of one foot on a stair. Reach for the bottom step with your heel until you feel a stretch in the arch of your foot. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then relax. Repeat 3 times. After you have stretched the bottom muscles of your foot, you can begin strengthening the top muscles of your foot. Frozen can roll, Roll your bare injured foot back and forth from your heel to your mid-arch over a frozen juice can. Repeat for 3 to 5 minutes. This exercise is particularly helpful if done first thing in the morning. Towel pickup, With your heel on the ground, pick up a towel with your toes. Release. Repeat 10 to 20 times. When this gets easy, add more resistance by placing a book or small weight on the towel. Balance and reach exercises, Stand upright next to a chair. This will provide you with balance if needed. Stand on the foot farthest from the chair. Try to raise the arch of your foot while keeping your toes on the floor. Keep your foot in this position and reach forward in front of you with your hand farthest away from the chair, allowing your knee to bend. Repeat this 10 times while maintaining the arch height. This exercise can be made more difficult by reaching farther in front of you. Do 2 sets. Stand in the same position as above. While maintaining your arch height, reach the hand farthest away from the chair across your body toward the chair. The farther you reach, the more challenging the exercise. Do 2 sets of 10. Heel raise, Balance yourself while standing behind a chair or counter. Using the chair to help you, raise your body up onto your toes and hold for 5 seconds. Then slowly lower yourself down without holding onto the chair. Hold onto the chair or counter if you need to. When this exercise becomes less painful, try lowering on one leg only. Repeat 10 times. Do 3 sets of 10. Side-lying leg lift, Lying on your side, tighten the front thigh muscles on your top leg and lift that leg 8 to 10 inches away from the other leg. Keep the leg straight. Do 3 sets of 10.
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