What May Cause Heel Pain

Plantar Fasciitis


Overview


The plantar fascia acts like a bowstring and supports the arch and several muscles inside the foot. When there is increased stress on the arch, microscopic tears can occur within the plantar fascia, usually at its attachment on the heel. This results in inflammation and pain with standing and walking and sometimes at rest.






Causes


Factors which may contribute to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs include a sudden increase in daily activities, increase in weight (not usually a problem with runners), or a change of shoes. Dramatic increase in training intensity or duration may cause plantar fasciitis. Shoes that are too flexible in the middle of the arch or shoes that bend before the toe joints will cause an increase in tension in the plantar fascia. Even though you may have run in shoes that are flexible before, now that you have developed plantar fasciitis, make certain that your shoe is stable and does not bend in the midfoot. Check and be certain that your shoes are not excessively worn. Shoes that do not sufficiently control excessive pronation combined with an increase in training can lead to this condition. A change in running style or parameters, such as starting speed work, running on the ball of your foot or sudden increase in hill workouts may lead to problems. All changes should be gradual and not abrupt. Gait changes such as altering your foot strike, switching shoe style, running barefoot or in minimalist shoes should all be made gradually and not abruptly. The "terrible too's" of too much, too soon, too often with too little rest also applies to "too many changes with too little adaptation". Make your changes gradually and allow your muscles, bones, and other body structures to adapt to the alterations you may be attempting.






Symptoms


Plantar fasciitis which usually occurs on one foot at a time typically develops slowly. Some cases can be sudden and severe. If you suspect that you have plantar fasciitis, you should feel a sharp, stabbing heel pain, usually in the inside bottom part of the heel. The pain will likely be worse when you take the first steps after long periods of rest (especially after sleep). The pain may also worsen as you stand, climb stairs, or tiptoe. You typically will not feel a lot of pain during exercise, but will feel the ache after. In some cases, the affected heel may even swell.






Diagnosis


Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by a health care provider after consideration of a person’s presenting history, risk factors, and clinical examination. Tenderness to palpation along the inner aspect of the heel bone on the sole of the foot may be elicited during the physical examination. The foot may have limited dorsiflexion due to tightness of the calf muscles or the Achilles tendon. Dorsiflexion of the foot may elicit the pain due to stretching of the plantar fascia with this motion. Diagnostic imaging studies are not usually needed to diagnose plantar fasciitis. However, in certain cases a physician may decide imaging studies (such as X-rays, diagnostic ultrasound or MRI) are warranted to rule out other serious causes of foot pain. Bilateral heel pain or heel pain in the context of a systemic illness may indicate a need for a more in-depth diagnostic investigation. Lateral view x-rays of the ankle are the recommended first-line imaging modality to assess for other causes of heel pain such as stress fractures or bone spur development. Plantar fascia aponeurosis thickening at the heel greater than 5 millimeters as demonstrated by ultrasound is consistent with a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. An incidental finding associated with this condition is a heel spur, a small bony calcification on the calcaneus (heel bone), which can be found in up to 50% of those with plantar fasciitis. In such cases, it is the underlying plantar fasciitis that produces the heel pain, and not the spur itself. The condition is responsible for the creation of the spur though the clinical significance of heel spurs in plantar fasciitis remains unclear.






Non Surgical Treatment


In general, plantar fasciitis is a self-limiting condition. Unfortunately, the time until resolution is often six to 18 months, which can lead to frustration for patients and physicians. Rest was cited by 25 percent of patients with plantar fasciitis in one study as the treatment that worked best. Athletes, active adults and persons whose occupations require lots of walking may not be compliant if instructed to stop all activity. Many sports medicine physicians have found that outlining a plan of “relative rest” that substitutes alternative forms of activity for activities that aggravate the symptoms will increase the chance of compliance with the treatment plan. It is equally important to correct the problems that place individuals at risk for plantar fasciitis, such as increased amount of weight-bearing activity, increased intensity of activity, hard walking/running surfaces and worn shoes. Early recognition and treatment usually lead to a shorter course of treatment as well as increased probability of success with conservative treatment measures.


Heel Pain






Surgical Treatment


Most patients have good results from surgery. However, because surgery can result in chronic pain and dissatisfaction, it is recommended only after all nonsurgical measures have been exhausted. The most common complications of release surgery include incomplete relief of pain and nerve damage.






Stretching Exercises


Stretching exercises for your foot are important. Do the stretches shown here at least twice a day. Don't bounce when you stretch. Plantar fascia stretch. To do the plantar fascia stretch, stand straight with your hands against a wall and your injured leg slightly behind your other leg. Keeping your heels flat on the floor, slowly bend both knees. You should feel the stretch in the lower part of your leg. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat the stretch 6 to 8 times. Calf stretch. Stand with your hands against a wall and your injured leg behind your other leg. With your injured leg straight, your heel flat on the floor and your foot pointed straight ahead, lean slowly forward, bending the other leg. You should feel the stretch in the middle of your calf. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat the stretch 6 to 8 times. Other exercises. You can also strengthen your leg muscles by standing on the ball of your foot at the edge of a step and raising up as high as possible on your toes. Relax between toe raises and let your heel fall a little lower than the edge of the step. It's also helpful to strengthen the foot by grabbing a towel with your toes as if you are going to pick up the towel with your foot. Repeat this exercise several times a day.
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