The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis which is commonly referred to as a heel spur. Plantar fascia is a broad band of fibrous tissue which runs along the bottom surface of the foot, from the heel to the toes. Plantar fasciitis is a condition in which the plantar fascia is inflamed. This condition can be very painful and cause a considerable amount of suffering.
There are several causes of heel pain. By far the most common cause in adults is a condition commonly known as plantar fasciitis. Other names occasionally used for the same condition are heel spurs, and policeman?s heel. Plantar means bottom of the foot, and fascia is the fibrous tissues that helps tether the heel bone (calcaneus) to the heads of the metatarsal bones found at the base of your toes The meaning of ?itis? is inflammation. However, inflammation does not have a large part to play in the pathology, it is more degenerative (wear & tear) so the preferred title is plantar fasciosis or plantar aponeurotic fasciosis. For simplicity sake, we will refer to this common cause of heel pain as plantar fasciitis in this manual.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain along the inside edge of the heel near the arch of the foot. The pain is worse when weight is placed on the foot especially after a long period of rest or inactivity. This is usually most pronounced in the morning when the foot is first placed on the floor. This symptom called first-step pain is typical of plantar fasciitis. Prolonged standing can also increase the painful symptoms. It may feel better after activity but most patients report increased pain by the end of the day. Pressing on this part of the heel causes tenderness. Pulling the toes back toward the face can be very painful.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as have you had this type of heel pain before? When did your pain begin? Do you have pain upon your first steps in the morning or after your first steps after rest? Is the pain dull and aching or sharp and stabbing? Is it worse after exercise? Is it worse when standing? Did you fall or twist your ankle recently? Are you a runner? If so, how far and how often do you run? Do you walk or stand for long periods of time? What kind of shoes do you wear? Do you have any other symptoms? Your doctor may order a foot x-ray. You may need to see a physical therapist to learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your foot. Your doctor may recommend a night splint to help stretch your foot. Surgery may be recommended in some cases.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment options for plantar fasciitis include custom prescription foot orthoses (orthotics), weight loss when indicated, steroid injections and physical therapy to decrease the inflammation, night-splints and/or cast boots to splint and limit the stress on the plantar fascia. Orthotripsy (high frequency ultra-sonic shock waves) is also a new treatment option that has been shown to decrease the pain significantly in 50 to 85 percent of patients in published studies. Surgery, which can be done endoscopically, is usually not needed for over 90 percent of the cases of plantar fasciitis. (However, when surgery is needed, it is about 85 percent successful.) Patients who are overweight do not seem to benefit as much from surgery. Generally, plantar fasciitis is a condition people learn to control. There are a few conditions similar to plantar fascia in which patients should be aware. The most common is a rupture of the plantar fascia: the patient continues to exercise despite the symptoms and experiences a sudden sharp pain on the bottom of the heel and cannot stand on his or her toes, resulting in bruising in the arch. Ruptures are treated very successfully by immobilization in a cast boot for two to six weeks, a period of active rest and physical therapy. Another problem with prolonged and neglected plantar fasciitis is development of a stress fracture from the constant traction of this ligament on the heel bone. This appears more common in osteoporotic women, and is also treated with cast boot immobilization. The nerves that run along the heel occasionally become inflamed by the subsequent thickening and inflammation of the adjacent plantar fascia. These symptoms often feel like numbness and burning and usually resolve with physical therapy and injections. Patients should also be aware that heel numbness can be the first sign of a back problem.
Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.
Preventing heel pain is crucial to avoid pain that can easily interrupt a busy or active lifestyle. Athletes can prevent damage by stretching the foot and calf both before and after an exercise routine. The plantar fascia ligament can be stretched by using a tennis ball or water bottle and rolling it across the bottom of the foot. With regular stretching, the stretching and flexibility of tissue through the foot can be significantly improved, helping to prevent damage and injury. Athletes should also ease into new or more difficult routines, allowing the plantar fascia and other tissue to become accustomed to the added stress and difficulty. Running up hills is also common among athletes in their routines. However, this activity should be reduced since it places an increased amount of stress on the plantar fascia and increases the risk of plantar fasciitis. Maintaining a healthy weight is also an essential heel pain prevention technique. Obesity brings additional weight and stress on the heel of the foot, causing damage and pain in the heel as well as in other areas of the foot.