What Is Heel Discomfort And How One Can Alleviate It

Plantar Fascitis

Overview

Foot pain affects nearly all people at one time or another. It can also lead to other musculoskeletal problems such as ankle, knee and back pain (Hill et al., 2008). This pain negatively affects one’s quality of life and ability to enjoy workouts and/or maintain a regular program of exercise. One of the most common sources of foot pain is plantar fasciitis, a condition where the connective tissue on the underside of the foot becomes irritated and painful as a result of an injury, overuse or misuse. The plantar fascia is a system of connective tissue that runs from your heel to just behind your toes. During weightbearing activities, such as walking or running, your body weight is transferred onto your foot from your heel to your toes (which results in your toes moving away from your heel). This spreading out of the foot places tension on the plantar fascia because it connects those two parts. If the tension on this structure is too great or is not dispersed evenly, the plantar fascia can develop microtears and become irritated and painful, resulting in a condition called plantar fasciitis.


Causes

Plantar fasciitis occurs when the ligament in your foot arch is strained repeatedly, which causes tiny tears and significant pain. There are several possible causes for this condition. Excessive pronation, or overpronation, which happens when your feet roll excessively inward as you walk. Flat feet or high arches. Walking, standing, or running for long periods of time, particularly on hard surfaces (a common problem for athletes). Excess weight, such as overweight or obesity. Shoes that are worn out or don’t fit well. Tight calf muscles or Achilles tendons.


Symptoms

Patients experience intense sharp pain with the first few steps in the morning or following long periods of having no weight on the foot. The pain can also be aggravated by prolonged standing or sitting. The pain is usually experienced on the plantar surface of the foot at the anterior aspect of the heel where the plantar fascia ligament inserts into the calcaneus. It may radiate proximally in severe cases. Some patients may limp or prefer to walk on their toes. Alternative causes of heel pain include fat pad atrophy, plantar warts and foreign body.


Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for tenderness in your foot and the exact location of the pain to make sure that it’s not caused by a different foot problem. The doctor may ask you to flex your foot while he or she pushes on the plantar fascia to see if the pain gets worse as you flex and better as you point your toe. Mild redness or swelling will also be noted. Your doctor will evaluate the strength of your muscles and the health of your nerves by checking your reflexes, your muscle tone, your sense of touch and sight, your coordination, and your balance. X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be ordered to check that nothing else is causing your heel pain, such as a bone fracture.


Non Surgical Treatment

Night splints are treatment that can help stretch your calf and the arch of your foot. Night splints are a type of brace that holds your foot in a flexed position and lengthens the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon overnight. This can prevent morning pain and stiffness. Special orthotics, or arch supports, for your shoes may help alleviate some of the pain by distributing pressure, and can prevent further damage to the plantar fascia. A boot cast may be used to immobilize your foot and reduce strain while the plantar fascia heals. A boot cast looks like a ski boot and can be removed for bathing.

Feet Pain


Surgical Treatment

Surgery is considered only after 12 months of aggressive nonsurgical treatment. Gastrocnemius recession. This is a surgical lengthening of the calf (gastrocnemius) muscles. Because tight calf muscles place increased stress on the plantar fascia, this procedure is useful for patients who still have difficulty flexing their feet, despite a year of calf stretches. In gastrocnemius recession, one of the two muscles that make up the calf is lengthened to increase the motion of the ankle. The procedure can be performed with a traditional, open incision or with a smaller incision and an endoscope, an instrument that contains a small camera. Your doctor will discuss the procedure that best meets your needs. Complication rates for gastrocnemius recession are low, but can include nerve damage. Plantar fascia release. If you have a normal range of ankle motion and continued heel pain, your doctor may recommend a partial release procedure. During surgery, the plantar fascia ligament is partially cut to relieve tension in the tissue. If you have a large bone spur, it will be removed, as well. Although the surgery can be performed endoscopically, it is more difficult than with an open incision. In addition, endoscopy has a higher risk of nerve damage.

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