Understand Heel Discomfort

Overview

Heel Discomfort

The heel is a padded cushion of fatty tissue around the heel bone (the calcaneus) that holds its shape despite the pressure of body weight and movement. It serves to protect the structures of the foot, including the calcaneus, muscles and ligaments. Heel Pain is a very common foot complaint. Anyone can suffer from heel pain, but certain groups seem to be at increased risk, including Middle-aged men and women, Physically active people, People who are overweight or obese, People who are on their feet for long periods of time, Children aged between eight and 13 years (particularly boys), Women during pregnancy.

Causes

One of the most common heel pain causes is a condition called plantar fasciitis. The tendons, ligaments, muscles, and joints in the feet all work together to allow you to move your feet to walk or run. When the plantar fascia, or the arch of the foot, is overused or injured, pain is felt in the heel. The most common heel pain causes include plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, Bursitis, Fibromyalgia, Bone fracture, Heel spurs, Arthritis, Tarsal tunnel syndrome, Sever?s Disease.

Symptoms

Initially, this pain may only be present when first standing up after sleeping or sitting. As you walk around, the muscle and tendon loosen and the pain goes away. As this problem progresses, the pain can be present with all standing and walking. You may notice a knot or bump on the back of the heel. Swelling may develop. In some cases, pressure from the back of the shoe causes pain.

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

Calf stretch, silicone Heel cups, ice, night splint, physical therapy. Sometimes custom orthotics are beneficial in long standing cases. Steroid injections have been used and although they temporarily relieve the pain, the pain usually returns within a short period of time. Plantar fasciitis tends to go away in 90% of all people in time. It can take 12-18 months for all the pain to resolve. If the pain continues after adequate treatment, high frequency shock wave therapy (OssaTron) has been found to be beneficial, unfortunately most insurance companies do not cover this procedure.

Surgical Treatment

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.

Prevention

Foot Pain

Wear properly fitting shoes. Place insoles or inserts in your shoes to help control abnormal foot motion. Maintain a healthy weight. Exercise and do foot stretches as they have been shown to decrease the incidence of heel pain.

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