Thresa Bauswell

The Globe's Premier Foot Blog Site

What Can Cause Heel Ache

Overview

Feet 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 a common symptom that has many possible causes. Although heel pain sometimes is caused by a systemic (body-wide) illness, such as rheumatoid arthritis or gout, it usually is a local condition that affects only the foot. The most common local causes of heel pain include Plantar fasciitis. lantar fasciitis is a painful inflammation of the plantar fascia, a fibrous band of tissue on the sole of the foot that helps to support the arch. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia is overloaded or overstretched. This causes small tears in the fibers of the fascia, especially where the fascia meets the heel bone. Plantar fasciitis may develop in just about anyone but it is particularly common in the following groups of people: people with diabetes, obese people, pregnant women, runners, volleyball players, tennis players and people who participate in step aerobics or stair climbing. You also can trigger plantar fasciitis by pushing a large appliance or piece of furniture or by wearing worn out or poorly constructed shoes. In athletes, plantar fasciitis may follow a period of intense training, especially in runners who push themselves to run longer distances. People with flat feet have a higher risk of developing plantar fasciitis. Heel spur. heel spur is an abnormal growth of bone at the area where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone. It is caused by long-term strain on the plantar fascia and muscles of the foot, especially in obese people, runners or joggers. As in plantar fasciitis, shoes that are worn out, poorly fitting or poorly constructed can aggravate the problem. Heel spurs may not be the cause of heel pain even when seen on an X-ray. In fact, they may develop as a reaction to plantar fasciitis. Calcaneal apophysitis, n this condition, the center of the heel bone becomes irritated as a result of a new shoe or increased athletic activity. This pain occurs in the back of the heel, not the bottom. Calcaneal apophysitis is a fairly common cause of heel pain in active, growing children between the ages of 8 and 14. Although almost any boy or girl can be affected, children who participate in sports that require a lot of jumping have the highest risk of developing this condition. Bursitis. ursitis means inflammation of a bursa, a sac that lines many joints and allows tendons and muscles to move easily when the joint is moving. In the heel, bursitis may cause pain at the underside or back of the heel. In some cases, heel bursitis is related to structural problems of the foot that cause an abnormal gait (way of walking). In other cases, wearing shoes with poorly cushioned heels can trigger bursitis. Pump bump. his condition, medically known as posterior calcaneal exostosis, is an abnormal bony growth at the back of the heel. It is especially common in young women, in whom it is often related to long-term bursitis caused by pressure from pump shoes. Local bruises. ike other parts of the foot, the heel can be bumped and bruised accidentally. Typically, this happens as a "stone bruise," an impact injury caused by stepping on a sharp object while walking barefoot. Achilles tendonitis. n most cases, Achilles tendonitis (inflammation of the Achilles tendon) is triggered by overuse, especially by excessive jumping during sports. However, it also can be related to poorly fitting shoes if the upper back portion of a shoe digs into the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel. Less often, it is caused by an inflammatory illness, such as ankylosing spondylitis (also called axial spondylarthritis), reactive arthritis, gout or rheumatoid arthritis. Trapped nerve. ompression of a small nerve (a branch of the lateral plantar nerve) can cause pain, numbness or tingling in the heel area. In many cases, this nerve compression is related to a sprain, fracture or varicose (swollen) vein near the heel.

Symptoms

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.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is generally made during the history and physical examination. There are several conditions that can cause heel pain, and plantar fasciitis must be distinguished from these conditions. Pain can be referred to the heel and foot from other areas of the body such as the low back, hip, knee, and/or ankle. Special tests to challenge these areas are performed to help confirm the problem is truly coming from the plantar fascia. An X-ray may be ordered to rule out a stress fracture of the heel bone and to see if a bone spur is present that is large enough to cause problems. Other helpful imaging studies include bone scans, MRI, and ultrasound. Ultrasonographic exam may be favored as it is quick, less expensive, and does not expose you to radiation. Laboratory investigation may be necessary in some cases to rule out a systemic illness causing the heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Reiter's syndrome, or ankylosing spondylitis. These are diseases that affect the entire body but may show up at first as pain in the heel.

Non Surgical Treatment

If the plantar fasciitis is acute, that is, a sprain of the plantar fascia then it is basically treated as a sprain, with anti-inflammatory drugs, ice, rest, possibly physical therapy. If chronic, the poor foot mechanics need be addressed. Foot mechanics are changed by use of specially moulded shoe inserts known as orthotics. Someone with plantar fasciitis needs an orthotic designed to relieve strain on the plantar fascia. Orthotics are often confused with arch supports. Arch supports, by holding up the arch can remove some of the tension from the plantar fascia. Orthotics, on the other hand, do most of their work on the heel and ball of the foot repositioning the foot for maximized function. What can you do before you see the foot doctor? First, try doing your own version of deep tissue massage by rolling a frozen cola bottle or can from the heel forward into the arch. Do it gently. Do stretching but the key to good stretching is not to stretch too hard so generally avoid weight bearing (standing) stretches but sit on a soft surface like your bed and pull the foot backward on the leg as far as it will go, holding for 20 seconds and relaxing for 5 seconds. Each 25 second ?set? can be repeated 5 times and you have invested about 2 minutes in giving yourself a lot of help. Watch out for the shoes you wear. It is tempting to obtain shoes that are colorful and soft. Here is the proof that soft shoes are bad. Wrap a pillow around your foot with duct tape and walk for a block or two. You will come back with your foot hurting more because your foot sank down deeper into the soft surface, allowing the ligament to stretch more. The shoes should be stiff in the shank and flexible at the ball. Such shoes, to running buffs, are known as motion control shoes or stability shoes so going to one of the small specialty running shoes stores is a good place to start. If you don?t have a desk job, or have an industrial job see if light duty is available. A note from your doc may be all that is required in most cases and most doctors are happy to oblige.

Surgical Treatment

At most 95% of heel pain can be treated without surgery. A very low percentage of people really need to have surgery on the heel. It is a biomechanical problem and it?s very imperative that you not only get evaluated, but receive care immediately. Having heel pain is like having a problem with your eyes; as you would get glasses to correct your eyes, you should look into orthotics to correct your foot. Orthotics are sort of like glasses for the feet. They correct and realign the foot to put them into neutral or normal position to really prevent heel pain, and many other foot issues. Whether it be bunions, hammertoes, neuromas, or even ankle instability, a custom orthotic is something worth considering.

heel spur shoes

Prevention

Pain On The Heel

The following steps will help prevent plantar fasciitis or help keep the condition from getting worse if you already have it. The primary treatment is rest. Cold packs application to the area for 20 minutes several times a day or after activities give some relief. Over-the-counter pain medications can help manage the pain, consult your healthcare professional. Shoes should be well cushioned, especially in the midsole area, and should have the appropriate arch support. Some will benefit from an orthotic shoe insert, such as a rubber heel pad for cushioning. Orthotics should be used in both shoes, even if only one foot hurts. Going barefoot or wearing slipper puts stress on your feet. Put on supportive shoes as soon as you get out of bed. Calf stretches and stretches using a towel (place the towel under the ball of your feet and pull gently the towel toward you and hold a few seconds) several times a day, especially when first getting up in the morning. Stretching the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel is especially important before sports, but it is helpful for nonathletes as well. Increasing your exercise levels gradually. Staying at a healthy weight. Surgery is very rarely required.
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