What Is Heel Pain And How To Successfully Treat It

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Heel Pain

Overview

Heel pain is a common foot condition. It's usually felt as an intense pain when using the affected heel. Heel pain usually builds up gradually and gets worse over time. The pain is often severe and occurs when you place weight on the heel. In most cases, only one heel is affected, although estimates suggest that around a third of people have pain in both heels. The pain is usually worse first thing in the morning, or when you first take a step after a period of inactivity. Walking usually improves the pain, but it often gets worse again after walking or standing for a long time. Some people may limp or develop an abnormal walking style as they try to avoid placing weight on the affected heel.




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

Patients experience intense sharp pain with the first few steps in the morning or following long periods of having no weight on the foot. The pain can also be aggravated by prolonged standing or sitting. The pain is usually experienced on the plantar surface of the foot at the anterior aspect of the heel where the plantar fascia ligament inserts into the calcaneus. It may radiate proximally in severe cases. Some patients may limp or prefer to walk on their toes. Alternative causes of heel pain include fat pad atrophy, plantar warts and foreign body.




Diagnosis

To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.




Non Surgical Treatment

Rest until the pain resolves and you are feeling better. For most people with plantar fasciitis it is very difficult to rest as daily routine demands using their feet during the day for work or other activities. By using the painful foot you keep on hurting the plantar fascia, harming the foot and increasing inflammation. Rest as much as you can, reduce unnecessary activities and additional stress on the fascia. Cold therapy like applying ice to the bottom of your foot helps reduce pain and inflammation. Cold therapy can be used all the time until symptoms have resolved. Some patients prefer to roll their foot over an iced cold drink can or bottle taken out of the freezer. Physical therapy Exercises are good plantar fasciitis treatment. Stretching and other physical therapy measures may be used to provide relief. Stretching the plantar fascia is reported in scientific studies to be a very effective treatment technique. Gait analysis will determine if you overpronate or oversupinate. An expert may perform a test of the way you stand and walk to see if you step in a way that puts more stress on the plantar fascia. You can try to change the way you walk and stand according to the experts recommendation as part of your treatment. Exercise the foot muscles to make the muscles stronger. One good exercise is grabbing and lifting up a towel or marbles using your toes. You can do the same exercise without a towel as though you are grasping something with the toes of each foot. Another good exercise is walking as tall as you can on your toes and on the balls of your feet. Stretching the plantar fascia and the calf muscles several times a day is an important part of the treatment and prevention. There are many stretching exercises for the plantar fascia and the calf muscles that you can find. Long term treatment should not focus in reduction of pain and inflammation alone. This is a passive short term relief treatment. Stretching exercises results are longer and more flexible foot movement which can prevent another fascia injury. Plantar fasciitis taping technique can assist the foot getting rest and help it from getting injured again. Athletic tape is applied in strips on the skin on the bottom of the foot supporting the plantar fascia. The tape restricts the movement of the foot so the fascia can not be injured again. Taping supports the foot by putting the tired foot muscles and tendons in a physiologically more relaxed position. A night splint is worn during sleep. It holds the calf muscles and plantar fascia in a stretched position. Night splint treatment lets the fascia heal in a stretched position so it will not get bruised again when waking up and stretching it again while walking. Orthotics or inserts that your doctor may prescribe or custom made arch supports (orthotics) plantar fascia orthotic. help to distribute the pressure on your feet more evenly. Arch Support gives a little raise to the arch assisting the plantar fascia. There are also over-the-counter inserts that are used for arch support and heel cushioning. Heel cups and cradles provide extra comfort and cushion the heel. They reduce shock placed on the foot during everyday activities like Shock absorbers. Anti-inflammatory or Pain medication that a clinician may recommend can be a plantar fasciitis treatment. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can reduce swelling and relieve pain. However, these medications may have many side effects and it is important to consider the potential risks and benefits. These medications may relieve the pain and inflammation but will not cure the fascia. Lose weight as much as you can. Extra weight puts more stress on your plantar fascia. Platelet Rich Plasma or PRP therapy, is a procedure which involves an injection of special plasma, made out of the patients own blood, to the injured area. Platelets are special blood components that have a major role in the body ability to heal itself. Blood is taken from the patient and separated into its components. The platelet rich part of the blood is than taken and injected into the injured area - in our case to the bottom of the foot. The special plasma helps the foot recovery process. The procedure is actually maximizing the body's natural healing response of the treated area. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy is a procedure which sound waves are targeted at the area of heel pain to encourage healing. It is mostly used for chronic plantar fasciitis which does not respond to conservative treatments. This procedure has many possible side effects like bruising, swelling, pain or numbness and has not proved to be consistently effective. Corticosteroid injection (or cortisone shots) into the painful area may provide relief in severe cases. This kind of medication is very efficient in inflammation reduction. Corticosteroid injections usually provide short-term relief from plantar fasciitis pain. Symptom relief from the corticosteroid injection lasts for 3 to 6 weeks, but the effect often deteriorates and symptoms return. Botox Injections (botulinum toxin) are used to relieve the pain of plantar fasciitis, assist foot function recovery and the ability to walk better. Although the use of Botox injections as heel pain treatment is relatively new, there are a number of medical studies that show significant good results.

Foot Pain




Surgical Treatment

When more conservative methods have failed to reduce plantar fasciitis pain, your doctor may suggest extracorporeal shock wave therapy, which is used to treat chronic plantar fasciitis. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy uses sound waves to stimulate healing, but may cause bruises, numbness, tingling, swelling, and pain. When all else fails, surgery may be recommended to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone. Few people need surgery to treat the condition.




Prevention

Every time your foot strikes the ground, the plantar fascia is stretched. You can reduce the strain and stress on the plantar fascia by following these simple instructions: Avoid running on hard or uneven ground, lose any excess weight, and wear shoes and orthotics that support your arch to prevent over-stretching of the plantar fascia.

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