Do You Understand Heel Aches?

Overview

Heel Discomfort

Pain in the heel can be caused by many things. The commonest cause is plantar fasciitis (which will be discussed more in the next section). Other causes include, being overweight, constantly being on your feet, especially on a hard surface like concrete and wearing hard-soled footwear, thinning or weakness of the fat pads of the heel, injury to the bones or padding of the heel, arthritis in the ankle or heel (subtalar) joint, irritation of the nerves on the inner or outer sides of the heel, fracture of the heel bone (calcaneum).

Causes

The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a stretching of the plantar fascia, a ligament that runs from the ball of foot through the arch and is attached to the heel. It is that attachment which becomes aggravated and typically causes pain after being on your feet for lengths of time. Abnormal motion of the foot (pronation) is one cause of plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs, which are abnormal bone growths coming off the heel, can also cause heel pain. Other causes include repetitive stress or shock to the heel, standing for prolonged periods or osteoarthritis.

Symptoms

The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain along the inside edge of the heel near the arch of the foot. The pain is worse when weight is placed on the foot especially after a long period of rest or inactivity. This is usually most pronounced in the morning when the foot is first placed on the floor. This symptom called first-step pain is typical of plantar fasciitis. Prolonged standing can also increase the painful symptoms. It may feel better after activity but most patients report increased pain by the end of the day. Pressing on this part of the heel causes tenderness. Pulling the toes back toward the face can be very painful.

Diagnosis

Your GP or podiatrist (a healthcare professional who specialises in foot care) may be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and examining your heel and foot. You will usually only need further tests if you have additional symptoms that suggest the cause of your heel pain is not inflammation, such as numbness or a tingling sensation in your foot - this could be a sign of nerve damage in your feet and legs (peripheral neuropathy), your foot feels hot and you have a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above - these could be signs of a bone infection, you have stiffness and swelling in your heel - this could be a sign of arthritis. Possible further tests may include, blood tests, X-rays - where small doses of radiation are used to detect problems with your bones and tissues, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or ultrasound scan, which are more detailed scans.

Non Surgical Treatment

Initial treatment should consist of an ice pack. Some runners prefer to use a wet towel that has been in the fridge. We recommend you use commercially available ice packs for focused pain released. An anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen will help to reduce the swelling. Please note this should be taken with meals and never before running. As with all soft tissue injuries, you may have to re-examine your training regime. A reduction or even a total break form running may be necessary. . Examine your running shoes, making sure the shoes do not bend excessively near the middle of the foot and at the ball of the foot. Sports shoes with built in insoles can be beneficial, however we recommend you replace existing insoles with specific sports orthotics/ insoles. Silicone heel cups, leather heel pads and contrasting cold and hot therapy can all help to speed up the healing process. The plantar fascia stretch will help to prevent the injury from occurring again. Please note that this stretch should not be done while the heel is inflamed and should only be attempted once you?re a feeling minimal or no pain from your heel.

Surgical Treatment

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).

heel bursitis

Prevention

Pain On The Heel

You can help to prevent heel pain by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch of the foot and cushion the heel. If you are prone to plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon (heel cord) and plantar fascia may help to prevent the area from being injured again. You also can massage the soles of your feet with ice after stressful athletic activities. Sometimes, the only interventions needed are a brief period of rest and new walking or running shoes.
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