Heel Ache

Overview

Foot Pain

Heel Pain is a problem for many people. It makes standing and even walking around for long periods of time very uncomfortable. Several different conditions can lead to uncomfortable heels, but the most common culprit is plantar fasciitis. This is the inflammation and swelling of the plantar fascia, a tendon that runs along the sole of your foot and attaches to the bottom of the calcaneus, or heel bone. Repeated hard impacts or strain from overuse causes micro-tears to develop in the tendon, irritating it. The minor damage compounds over time and causes the tissue to swell and tighten, painfully pulling on the heel bone.

Causes

Heel pain is most often the result of overuse. Rarely, it may be caused by an injury. Your heel may become tender or swollen from shoes with poor support or shock absorption, running on hard surfaces, like concrete, running too often, tightness in your calf muscle or the Achilles tendon. Sudden inward or outward turning of your heel, landing hard or awkwardly on the heel. Conditions that may cause heel pain include when the tendon that connects the back of your leg to your heel becomes swollen and painful near the bottom of the foot, swelling of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) at the back of the heel bone under the Achilles tendon (bursitis). Bone spurs in the heel. Swelling of the thick band of tissue on the bottom of your foot (plantar fasciitis). Fracture of the heel bone that is related to landing very hard on your heel from a fall (calcaneus fracture).

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

Your doctor will listen to your complaints about your heel and examine you to see what is causing the pain, and whether anything else has started it off. If the cause of your pain seems obvious, your doctor may be happy to start treatment straight away. However, some tests may be helpful in ruling out other problems. Blood tests may be done for arthritis. An Xray will show any arthritis in the ankle or subtalar joint, as well as any fracture or cyst in the calcaneum. (It will also show a spur if you have one, but as we know this is not the cause of the pain.) Occasionally a scan may be used to help spot arthritis or a stress fracture.

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

Only a relatively few cases of heel pain require surgery. If required, surgery is usually for the removal of a spur, but also may involve release of the plantar fascia, removal of a bursa, or a removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.

Prevention

Heel Pain

Make sure you wear appropriate supportive shoes. Don’t over-train in sports. Make sure you warm up, cool down and undertake an exercise regime that helps maintain flexibility. Manage your weight, obesity is a factor in causing plantar fasciitis. Avoid walking and running on hard surfaces if you are prone to pain. You should follow the recognized management protocol “RICED” rest, ice, compression, elevation and diagnosis. Rest, keep off the injured ankle as much as possible. Ice, applied for 20 minutes at a time every hour as long as swelling persists. Compression, support the ankle and foot with a firmly (not tightly) wrapped elastic bandage. Elevation, keep foot above heart level to minimize bruising and swelling. Diagnosis. Consult a medical professional (such as a Podiatrist or doctor) especially if you are worried about the injury, or if the pain or swelling gets worse. If the pain or swelling has not gone down significantly within 48 hours, also seek treatment. An accurate diagnosis is essential for proper rehabilitation of moderate to severe injuries.

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