Heel pain can vary from moderate to severe pain that can make walking and daily tasks a chore if not treated. There are a number of different conditions which can cause Heel Pain so it is important that your heel is properly assessed and diagnosed by a Podiatrist. The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. This is where the tissue becomes inflamed at the heel bone or along sole of the foot between the heel and toe. Another condition commonly referred to as a heel spur can also cause pain in the heel. A heel spur is when a spike of bone has been pulled away from the heel bone, where the plantar fascia inserts, causing pain in the area directly under the heel on direct pressure.
There is no one cause of heel pain. Whole text books have been written on Disorders of the Heel. Some of the types of problems that can be seen in the heel include Heel spurs, these are small bony spurs that often develop on the bottom of the heel. They do not really cause any problems. It is only mentioned here as it is a common myth that they are a problem – almost always the pain associated with heel spurs is really plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain and is due to a strain of the long ligament along the bottom of the foot. The most symptom is pain when getting out of bed first thing in the morning (‘post-static dyskinesia’) A number of disease processes can uncommonly cause heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and gout. Stress fractures, which is an abnormal reaction of bone to stress can occur in those that are very active (eg athletes) or have weaker bones (eg osteoporosis) Pain at the back of the heel could be due to a number of problems, there could be a bursitis at the back of the heel bone (sometimes called ‘Haglund’s) there could be problems with the insertion of the achilles tendon, such as tendonitis or calcification. A ‘stone’ bruise is sometimes considered to be a cause of heel pain, its is simply a bruise of the bone. Another cause of heel pain is problems in the calf muscles that refer pain to the heel (myofascial trigger points) or pain referred from the lower back via the nerves from the back to the heel. Heel pain in children is usually due to severs disease or calcaneal apophysitis.
The heel can be painful in many different ways, depending on the cause. Plantar fasciitis commonly causes intense heel pain along the bottom of the foot during the first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning. This heel pain often goes away once you start to walk around, but it may return in the late afternoon or evening. Although X-ray evidence suggests that about 10% of the general population has heels spurs, many of these people do not have any symptoms. In others, heel spurs cause pain and tenderness on the undersurface of the heel that worsen over several months. In a child, this condition causes pain and tenderness at the lower back portion of the heel. The affected heel is often sore to the touch but not obviously swollen. Bursitis involving the heel causes pain in the middle of the undersurface of the heel that worsens with prolonged standing and pain at the back of the heel that worsens if you bend your foot up or down. Pump bump, this condition causes a painful enlargement at the back of the heel, especially when wearing shoes that press against the back of the heel. Heel bruises, like bruises elsewhere in the body, may cause pain, mild swelling, soreness and a black-and-blue discoloration of the skin. Achilles tendonitis, this condition causes pain at the back of the heel where the Achilles tendon attaches to the heel. The pain typically becomes worse if you exercise or play sports, and it often is followed by soreness, stiffness and mild swelling. A trapped nerve can cause pain, numbness or tingling almost anywhere at the back, inside or undersurface of the heel. In addition, there are often other symptoms, such as swelling or discoloration – if the trapped nerve was caused by a sprain, fracture or other injury.
A biomechanical exam by your podiatrist will help reveal these abnormalities and in turn resolve the cause of plantar fasciitis. By addressing this cause, the patient can be offered a podiatric long-term solution to his problem.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatments to add to your stretching program include wearing good-quality shoes, icing the painful area, and massaging the arch. Do not walk barefoot; walk in shoes with good heel and arch supports such as high-quality walking or running shoes. Keep a pair of shoes next to your bed so you can put them on before taking your first step. Your doctor may recommend that you wear an additional arch support or a heel cup in the shoes. Icing your foot can help relieve pain. Rub a frozen bottle of water or an ice cup over the tender areas for five minutes two times each day. Massage your foot by rolling a tennis, golf ball, or baseball along your sole and heel. This friction massage can help break up adhesions and stretch the plantar fascia. Do this for five minutes two times each day. If you are a runner or just started a walking or running program, evaluate your training for errors such as warming up improperly, increasing mileage too quickly, running hills excessively, running on surfaces that are too hard, or wearing broken down shoes. Adjusting your training program can help relieve your pain. While recovering from heel pain, walk or jog in a pool or crosstrain by biking and swimming. These activities maintain your cardiovascular fitness without stressing your heel cord or plantar fascia. Heel pain takes time to go away. Be patient and remember that no treatment is a substitute for STRETCHING!
Surgery to correct heel pain is generally only recommended if orthotic treatment has failed. There are some exceptions to this course of treatment and it is up to you and your doctor to determine the most appropriate course of treatment. Following surgical treatment to correct heel pain the patient will generally have to continue the use of orthotics. The surgery does not correct the cause of the heel pain. The surgery will eliminate the pain but the process that caused the pain will continue without the use of orthotics. If orthotics have been prescribed prior to surgery they generally do not have to be remade.
Wear shoes that fit well, front, back and sides and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid uppers and supportive heel counters. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm-up before running or walking, and do some stretching exercises afterward. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. If overweight, try non weight-bearing activities such as swimming or cycling. Your podiatrist may also use taping or strapping to provide extra support for your foot. Orthoses (shoe inserts) specifically made to suit your needs may be also be prescribed.