What Is Heel Discomfort And Tips On How To Alleviate It

Heel Discomfort

Overview

There are many diagnoses within the differential of heel pain; however, plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain for which professional care is sought. Approximately 10% of the United States population experiences bouts of heel pain, which results in 1 million visits per year to medical professionals for treatment of plantar fasciitis. The annual cost of treatments for plantar fasciitis is estimated to be between $192 and $376 million dollars. The etiology of this condition is multifactorial, and the condition can occur traumatically; however, most cases are from overuse stresses.




Causes

This is a problem of either extreme, so people with high arches or those that have very flat feet are at risk of developing pain in this region. This is because of the relative stress the plantar fascia is put under. In people with excessive pronation, the plantar fascia is put under too much stretch, as their range flattens and strains it. People with a stiff, supinated (high-arched) foot lack the flexibility to appropriately shock absorb, so this too puts extra strain on the plantar fascia. Clinically, we see more people presenting with plantar fascia pain who have excessive pronation than those with stiff, supinated feet. But while the foot type is the biggest risk factor for plantar fasciitis, the whole leg from the pelvis down can affect how the foot hits the ground. A thorough biomechanical assessment will determine where in the kinetic chain things have gone wrong to cause the overload.




Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia - a band of tough fibrous tissue running along the sole of the foot. It occurs when small tears develop in the plantar fascia, leading to inflammation and heel pain. The plantar fascia tissue branches out from the heel like a fan, connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes. When the foot moves, the plantar fascia stretches and contracts. The plantar fascia helps to maintain the arch of the foot in much the same way that the string of a bow maintains the bow's arch. The most notable symptom of plantar fasciitis is heel pain. This is typically most severe in the middle of the heel though it may radiate along the sole of the foot. The pain is most often felt when walking first thing in the morning or after a period of rest. As walking continues the pain may decrease; however some degree of pain remains present on movement. The pain may disappear when resting, as the plantar fascia is relaxed. Redness, swelling and warmth over the affected area may also be noticed. The onset of plantar fasciitis is gradual and only mild pain may be experienced initially. However, as the condition progresses the pain experienced tends to become more severe. Chronic plantar fasciitis may cause a person to change their walking or running action, leading to symptoms of discomfort in the knee, hip and back.




Diagnosis

After you describe your symptoms and discuss your concerns, your doctor will examine your foot. Your doctor will look for these signs. A high arch, an area of maximum tenderness on the bottom of your foot, just in front of your heel bone. Pain that gets worse when you flex your foot and the doctor pushes on the plantar fascia. The pain improves when you point your toes down. Limited "up" motion of your ankle. Your doctor may order imaging tests to help make sure your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis and not another problem. X-rays provide clear images of bones. They are useful in ruling out other causes of heel pain, such as fractures or arthritis. Heel spurs can be seen on an x-ray. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, are not routinely used to diagnose plantar fasciitis. They are rarely ordered. An MRI scan may be used if the heel pain is not relieved by initial treatment methods.




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.

Heel Pain




Surgical Treatment

Plantar fasciotomy is often considered after conservative treatment has failed to resolve the issue after six months and is viewed as a last resort. Minimally invasive and endoscopic approaches to plantar fasciotomy exist but require a specialist who is familiar with certain equipment. Heel spur removal during plantar fasciotomy has not been found to improve the surgical outcome. Plantar heel pain may occur for multiple reasons and release of the lateral plantar nerve branch may be performed alongside the plantar fasciotomy in select cases. Possible complications of plantar fasciotomy include nerve injury, instability of the medial longitudinal arch of the foot, fracture of the calcaneus, prolonged recovery time, infection, rupture of the plantar fascia, and failure to improve the pain. Coblation (TOPAZ) surgery has recently been proposed as alternative surgical approaches for the treatment of recalcitrant plantar fasciitis.




Prevention

More than with most sports injuries, a little bit of prevention can go a long way toward keeping you free from plantar fasciitis. Here are some tips to follow. Wear supportive shoes that fit you well. When your shoes start to show wear and can no longer give your feet the support they need, it's time to get a new pair. Runners should stop using their old shoes after about 500 miles of use. Have a trained professional at a specialty running store help you find the right pair for your foot type, and then keep your shoes tied and snug when you wear them. Stay in good shape. By keeping your weight in check, you'll reduce the amount of stress on your feet. Stretch your calves and feet before you exercise or play a sport. Ask an athletic trainer or sports medicine specialist to show you some dynamic stretching exercises. Start any new activity or exercise slowly and increase the duration and intensity of the activity gradually. Don't go out and try to run 10 miles the first time you go for a jog. Build up to that level of exercise gradually. Talk to your doctor about getting heel pads, custom shoe inserts, or orthotics to put in your shoes. Foot supports can help cushion your feet and distribute your weight more evenly. This is especially true for people with high arches or flat feet. Your doctor will be able to tell you if shoe inserts and supports might lower your chances of heel injury.

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