What May Cause Heel Discomfort

Heel Discomfort

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. It can be caused by inadequate or inappropriate footwear, weight gain, or a particular exercise or activity. It is common for plantar fasciitis symptoms to affect only one foot at a time. Treatment focuses on reducing pain and inflammation. Chronic (long-term) plantar fasciitis can lead to a build-up of bone (a “spur”) at the point where the plantar fascia connects to the heel bone. For this reason plantar fasciitis is sometimes referred to as “heel spur syndrome”.


Causes

Plantar fasciitis most commonly occurs due to repetitive or prolonged activities placing strain on the plantar fascia. It is often seen in runners, or dancers and gymnasts who perform regular activities involving end of range foot and ankle movements. It may also occur in patients who walk excessively, especially up hills or on uneven surfaces. Older patients who spend a lot of time on their feet may also develop the condition. Plantar fasciitis frequently occurs in association with calf muscle tightness, inappropriate footwear, or biomechanical abnormalities, such as excessive pronation (flat feet) or supination (high arches). Occasionally the condition may occur suddenly due to a high force going through the plantar fascia beyond what it can withstand. This may be due to activities such as a sudden acceleration or a forceful jump.


Symptoms

The most common symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain on the bottom of the foot near the heel, pain with the first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning, or after a long period of rest, such as after a long car ride. The pain subsides after a few minutes of walking. Greater pain after (not during) exercise or activity.


Diagnosis

A health care professional will ask you whether you have the classic symptoms of first-step pain and about your activities, including whether you recently have intensified your training or changed your exercise pattern. Your doctor often can diagnose plantar fasciitis based on your history and symptoms, together with a physical examination. If the diagnosis is in doubt, your doctor may order a foot X-ray, bone scan or nerve conduction studies to rule out another condition, such as a stress fracture or nerve problem.


Non Surgical Treatment

Teatment of plantar fasciitis can be a long and frustrating process for both the coach and athlete. If you do not have a firm grasp of the goals of this rehabilitation program your best advice will be to find a professional who routinely deals with athletic injuries. The “down time” for plantar fasciitis will be at least six weeks and up to six months of conservative care before drastic measures like surgery should be considered. The goal of this rehab program is to initially increase the passive flexion of the foot eventually leading to improvements in dynamic balance and flexibility of the foot and ankle, followed by a full return to function.

Plantar Fasciitis


Surgical Treatment

The majority of patients, about 90%, will respond to appropriate non-operative treatment measures over a period of 3-6 months. Surgery is a treatment option for patients with persistent symptoms, but is NOT recommended unless a patient has failed a minimum of 6-9 months of appropriate non-operative treatment. There are a number of reasons why surgery is not immediately entertained including. Non-operative treatment when performed appropriately has a high rate of success. Recovery from any foot surgery often takes longer than patients expect. Complications following this type of surgery can and DO occur! The surgery often does not fully address the underlying reason why the condition occurred therefore the surgery may not be completely effective. Prior to surgical intervention, it is important that the treating physician ensure that the correct diagnosis has been made. This seems self-evident, but there are other potential causes of heel pain. Surgical intervention may include extracorporeal shock wave therapy or endoscopic or open partial plantar fasciectomy.


Prevention

Preventing plantar fasciitis is crucial. There are many choices to help prevent the occurrence of this condition, and keep it from returning. One of the most important is maintaining a healthy weight in order to reduce tension on the plantar fascia. In addition, shoes are very important, and should fit well and provide ample cushioning and support throughout the heel, arch, and ball of the foot so that weight is distributed evenly throughout the foot. Try to avoid walking barefoot on hard surfaces and replace old shoes before they wear out, especially shoes that you run or exercise in. When exercising, start off slow and ease into new routines to prevent sudden or excessive stress on tissue. Lastly, keep your calf muscles and the tissue of your feet stretched. Greater flexibility in the tissue makes them less susceptible to damage.

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