What Is Painful Heel

Heel Discomfort

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a condition that causes heel and arch pain through inflammation on the bottom of the foot. The part that’s inflamed (swollen) is actually the plantar fascia, which is the connective tissue or ligament that stretches from the base of the toes, across the arch of the foot, and inserts into the heel bone. This painful condition can interfere with your daily activity and severely decrease your quality of life.




Causes

Plantar fasciitis is usually not the result of a single event but more commonly the result of a history of repetitive micro trauma combined with a biomechanical deficiency of the foot. Arthritic changes and metabolic factors may also playa part in this injury but are unlikely in a young athletic population. The final cause of plantar fasciitis is "training errors." In all likelihood the injury is the result of a combination of biomechanical deficiencies and training errors. Training errors are responsible for up to 60% of all athletic injuries (Ambrosius 1992). The most frequent training error seen with plantar fasciitis is a rapid increase in volume (miles or time run) or intensity (pace and/or decreased recovery). Training on improper surfaces, a highly crowned road, excessive track work in spiked shoes, plyometrics on hard runways or steep hill running, can compromise the plantar fascia past elastic limits. A final training error seen in athletics is with a rapid return to some preconceived fitness level. Remembering what one did "last season" while forgetting the necessity of preparatory work is part of the recipe for injury. Metabolic and arthritic changes are a less likely cause of plantar fasciitis among athletes. Bilateral foot pain may indicate a metabolic or systemic problem. The definitive diagnosis in this case is done by a professional with blood tests and possibly x-rays.




Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia - a band of tough fibrous tissue running along the sole of the foot. It occurs when small tears develop in the plantar fascia, leading to inflammation and heel pain. The plantar fascia tissue branches out from the heel like a fan, connecting the heel bone to the base of the toes. When the foot moves, the plantar fascia stretches and contracts. The plantar fascia helps to maintain the arch of the foot in much the same way that the string of a bow maintains the bow's arch. The most notable symptom of plantar fasciitis is heel pain. This is typically most severe in the middle of the heel though it may radiate along the sole of the foot. The pain is most often felt when walking first thing in the morning or after a period of rest. As walking continues the pain may decrease; however some degree of pain remains present on movement. The pain may disappear when resting, as the plantar fascia is relaxed. Redness, swelling and warmth over the affected area may also be noticed. The onset of plantar fasciitis is gradual and only mild pain may be experienced initially. However, as the condition progresses the pain experienced tends to become more severe. Chronic plantar fasciitis may cause a person to change their walking or running action, leading to symptoms of discomfort in the knee, hip and back.




Diagnosis

If you see a doctor for heel pain, he or she will first ask questions about where you feel the pain. If plantar fasciitis is suspected, the doctor will ask about what activities you've been doing that might be putting you at risk. The doctor will also examine your foot by pressing on it or asking you to flex it to see if that makes the pain worse. If something else might be causing the pain, like a heel spur or a bone fracture, the doctor may order an X-ray to take a look at the bones of your feet. In rare cases, if heel pain doesn't respond to regular treatments, the doctor also might order an MRI scan of your foot. The good news about plantar fasciitis is that it usually goes away after a few months if you do a few simple things like stretching exercises and cutting back on activities that might have caused the problem. Taking over-the-counter medicines can help with pain. It's rare that people need surgery for plantar fasciitis. Doctors only do surgery as a last resort if nothing else eases the pain.




Non Surgical Treatment

First check your shoes for too much midfoot flexibility and check your training for changes. A detailed evaluation of changes in your training is necessary. You should start with what is called "relative rest" which means a decrease in workout intensity, duration of session and decrease in the number of sessions per week. The most important part of self treatment for this condition is being sure that your shoes offer sufficient stability and are optimal in controlling the forces that contribute to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Check your running shoes to make sure that they are not excessively worn. They should bend only at the ball of the foot, where your toes attach to the foot. This is vital! Avoid any shoe that bends in the center of the arch or behind the ball of the foot. It offers insufficient support and will stress your plantar fascia. The human foot was not designed to bend here and neither should a shoe be designed to do this. You should also be doing gentle calf stretching exercises. This will reduce stress on the plantar fascia in two ways. The first manner in which a relaxation of the tension in the calf muscles can help heel pain is that it will reduce the direct pull backwards on the heel bone (calcaneus). The second reason is a little bit more complicated, but essentially it is that a tight achilles tendon and calf muscles causes the rearfoot to move in a manner that causes over pronation as your leg and body move forward over your foot. So go ahead and gently stretch the calf muscle by doing the runner's wall leaning stretch. To strengthen the muscles in your arch toe curls or "doming" can be done. Toe curls may be done by placing a towel on a kitchen floor and then curling your toes to pull the towel towards you. This exercise may also be done without the towel against the resistance of the floor.

Plantar Fasciitis




Surgical Treatment

Surgery is not a common treatment for this condition. Approximately 5% of people with plantar fasciitis require surgery if non-surgical methods do not help to relieve pain within a year. The surgical procedure involves making an incision in the plantar fascia in order to decrease the tension of the ligament. Potential risks of this surgical procedure include irritation of the nerves around the heel, continued plantar fasciitis, heel or foot pain, infection, flattening of the arch, problems relating to the anesthetic.

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