Heel pain is one of the most common conditions treated by podiatrists. It is often a message that something is in need of medical attention. Pain that occurs right after an injury or early in an illness may play a protective role, often warning us about the damage we have suffered. Heel pain is a problem which affects people of all ages and vocations, whether they are active or not and it comes in many different forms. Heel pain can also occur in children usually between the ages of 8 and 13, as they become increasingly active in sporting activities and during the growing phase.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by inflammation and irritation of the tight tissue forming the arch of the foot. The most common cause of heel pain, it typically affects men, aged 40 - 70 who are physically active. The bottom or inside of the foot and / or heel (where heel and arch meet) may hurt or cause severe pain upon standing after resting -- or most often, when arising in the morning. The pain is usually experienced within the first few steps and is often characterized as "walking on nails" or knife blades. The pain may let up after walking a bit but most commonly returns after prolonged movement or a rest.
The primary symptom is pain in the heel area that varies in severity and location. The pain is commonly intense when getting out of bed or a chair. The pain often lessens when walking.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.
Non Surgical Treatment
Curing posterior heel pain requires calming the inflammation, resting the foot and increasing calf flexibility. Ice therapy and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to reduce the inflammation. Stopping exercises that stress the calf and Achilles is important. This includes walking, running and the use of stair climbers and elliptical machines. Placing a heel lift in each shoe can reduce some of the excess strain on the back of the heel. Stretching exercises to increase calf flexibility are important in curing this problem and preventing its recurrence. Wearing running shoes also provides good foot support and helps with this condition. Sometimes a walking boot is used to immobilize the ankle and let the area completely rest. Physical therapy is sometimes ordered to help reduce the inflammation and pain and to help improve the flexibility of the calf muscles. Occasionally these measures fail to relieve the pain and surgery may be needed. The surgical procedure involves removing bone spurs and repairing any damage to the tendon.
Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST) is a fairly new type of non-invasive treatment. Non-invasive means it does not involve making cuts into your body. EST involves using a device to deliver high-energy soundwaves into your heel. The soundwaves can sometimes cause pain, so a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your heel. It is claimed that EST works in two ways. It is thought to have a "numbing" effect on the nerves that transmit pain signals to your brain, help stimulate and speed up the healing process. However, these claims have not yet been definitively proven. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance about the use of EST for treating plantar fasciitis. NICE states there are no concerns over the safety of EST, but there are uncertainties about how effective the procedure is for treating heel pain. Some studies have reported that EST is more effective than surgery and other non-surgical treatments, while other studies found the procedure to be no better than a placebo (sham treatment).
You should always wear footwear that is appropriate for your environment and day-to-day activities. Wearing high heels when you go out in the evening is unlikely to be harmful. However, wearing them all week at work may damage your feet, particularly if your job involves a lot of walking or standing. Ideally, you should wear shoes with laces and a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes with no heels. Do not walk barefoot on hard ground, particularly while on holiday. Many cases of heel pain occur when a person protects their feet for 50 weeks of the year and then suddenly walks barefoot while on holiday. Their feet are not accustomed to the extra pressure, which causes heel pain. If you do a physical activity, such as running or another form of exercise that places additional strain on your feet, you should replace your sports shoes regularly. Most experts recommend that sports shoes should be replaced after you have done about 500 miles in them. It is also a good idea to always stretch after exercising, and to make strength and flexibility training a part of your regular exercise routine.