Understand Heel Ache

Overview

Heel Discomfort

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.What Is Plantar Fasciitis? Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that extends from the heel to the toes. In this condition, the fascia first becomes irritated and then inflamed, resulting in heel pain.

Causes

While heel pain has many causes, it is usually the result of faulty biomechanics (abnormalities in the way we walk). This can place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues attached to it. The stress may also result from injury, or a bruise incurred while walking, running or jumping on hard surfaces; wearing poorly constructed footwear; or being significantly overweight. Systemic diseases such as arthritis and diabetes can also contribute to heel pain. A common cause of heel pain is the heel spur, a bony growth under the heel bone. There are no visible features on the heel, but a deep painful spot can be found in or around the middle of the sole of the heel (see diagram). Approximately 10 per cent of the population may have heel spurs without any pain. Heel spurs result from strain on the muscles of the foot. This may result from biomechanical imbalance, a condition occurring in many people. Both heel pain and heel spurs are frequently associated with an inflammation of the long band of tissue that connects the heel and the ball of the foot. The inflammation of this arch area is called plantar fasciitis. The inflammation may be aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support, especially in the arch area, and by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an athletic lifestyle.Excessive rolling in of the feet when walking. An inflamed bursa (bursitis), a small, irritated sack of fluid at the back of the heel. A neuroma (a nerve growth). Other soft-tissue growths. Heel bumps or ?pump bumps?, a bone enlargement at the back of the heel bone. Bruises or stress fractures to the heel bone.

Symptoms

Usually worse with the first few steps in the morning or at the initial point of activity. The latter usually gets better with continued activity (squeaky hinge analogy). Walking, running, sprinting, hill running and jumping will increase the pain. Often, the natural response is to walk on the outside of the foot - in supination - to lessen the stress on the plantar fascia - resulting in new problems.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.

Non Surgical Treatment

Heel pain often goes away on its own with home care. For heel pain that isn't severe, try the following. Rest. If possible, avoid activities that put stress on your heels, such as running, standing for long periods or walking on hard surfaces. Ice. Place an ice pack or bag of frozen peas on your heel for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day. New shoes. Be sure your shoes fit properly and provide plenty of support. If you're an athlete, choose shoes appropriate for your sport and replace them regularly. Foot supports. Heel cups or wedges that you buy in the drugstore often provide relief. Custom-made orthotics usually aren't needed for heel problems. Over-the-counter pain medications. Aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) can reduce inflammation and pain.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery to correct heel pain is generally only recommended if orthotic treatment has failed. There are some exceptions to this course of treatment and it is up to you and your doctor to determine the most appropriate course of treatment. Following surgical treatment to correct heel pain the patient will generally have to continue the use of orthotics. The surgery does not correct the cause of the heel pain. The surgery will eliminate the pain but the process that caused the pain will continue without the use of orthotics. If orthotics have been prescribed prior to surgery they generally do not have to be remade.

Prevention

Painful Heel

Before you get out of bed in the morning, and then periodically throughout the day, do the following exercises to increase flexibility and ease pain. Slowly flex your foot and toes to stretch the tissue on the bottom of your sore foot. Hold the stretch for 10 counts. Relax and repeat. Do gentle ankle rolls to keep the tissues around the ankle and on the back of the heel flexible. Sit on the edge of your bed and roll your foot back and forth over a tennis ball.