What Is Heel Discomfort

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain in adults. The pain is usually caused by collagen degeneration (which is sometimes misnamed “chronic inflammation”) at the origin of the plantar fascia at the medial tubercle of the calcaneus. This degeneration is similar to the chronic necrosis of tendonosis, which features loss of collagen continuity, increases in ground substance (matrix of connective tissue) and vascularity, and the presence of fibro-blasts rather than the inflammatory cells usually seen with the acute inflammation of tendonitis. The cause of the degeneration is repetitive microtears of the plantar fascia that overcome the body's ability to repair itself.




Causes

Plantar Fasciitis often leads to heel pain, heel spurs, and/or arch pain. The excessive stretching of the plantar fascia that leads to the inflammation and discomfort can be caused by the following: Over-pronation (flat feet) which results in the arch collapsing upon weight bearing A foot with an unusually high arch A sudden increase in physical activity Excessive weight on the foot, usually attributed to obesity or pregnancy Improperly fitting footwear Over-pronation (flat feet) is the leading cause of plantar fasciitis. Over-pronation occurs in the walking process, when a person's arch collapses upon weight bearing, causing the plantar fascia to be stretched away from the heel bone. With Plantar Fasciitis, the bottom of your foot usually hurts near the inside of the foot where the heel and arch meet. The pain is often acute either first thing in the morning or after a long rest, because while resting the plantar fascia contracts back to its original shape. As the day progresses and the plantar fascia continues to be stretched, the pain often subsides.




Symptoms

Heel pain is the most common symptom associated with plantar fasciosis. Your heel pain may be worse in the morning or after you have been sitting or standing for long periods. Pain is most common under your heel bone, but you also may experience pain in your foot arch or on the outside aspect of your foot. Other common signs and symptoms of plantar fasciosis include mild swelling and redness in your affected area, tenderness on the bottom of your heel, impaired ability to ambulate.




Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor checks for points of tenderness in your foot. The location of your pain can help determine its cause. Usually no tests are necessary. The diagnosis is made based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally your doctor may suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn't being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve. Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.




Non Surgical Treatment

No single treatment works best for everyone with plantar fasciitis. But there are many things you can try to help your foot get better. Give your feet a rest. Cut back on activities that make your foot hurt. Try not to walk or run on hard surfaces. To reduce pain and swelling, try putting ice on your heel. Or take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (such as Aleve). Do toe stretches , calf stretches and towel stretches several times a day, especially when you first get up in the morning. (For towel stretches, you pull on both ends of a rolled towel that you place under the ball of your foot.) Get a new pair of shoes. Pick shoes with good arch support and a cushioned sole. Or try heel cups or shoe inserts ( orthotics ). Use them in both shoes, even if only one foot hurts. If these treatments do not help, your doctor may recommend splints that you wear at night, shots of medicine (such as a steroid ) in your heel, or other treatments. You probably will not need surgery. Doctors only suggest it for people who still have pain after trying other treatments for 6 to 12 months.

Heel Pain




Surgical Treatment

Surgery is rarely needed in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. The vast majority of patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis will recover given ample time. With some basic treatment steps, well over 90% of patients will achieve full recovery from symptoms of plantar fasciitis within one year of the onset of treatment. Simple treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, shoe inserts, and stretching exercises. In patients where a good effort with these treatments fails to provide adequate relief, some more aggressive treatments may be attempted. These include cortisone injections or extracorporeal shock wave treatments.




Prevention

An important part of prevention is to perform a gait analysis to determine any biomechanical problems with the foot which may be causing the injury. This can be corrected with orthotic inserts into the shoes. If symptoms do not resolve then surgery is an option, however this is more common for patients with a rigid high arch where the plantar fascia has shortened.

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