What May Cause Heel Discomfort

Painful Heel


Overview


Plantar fasciitis: Inflammation of the plantar fascia, the bowstring-like tissue that stretches from the heel bone to the base of the toes. Plantar fasciitis can be due to calcaneal spurs, which typically cause localized tenderness and pain that is made worse by stepping down on the heel. Plantar fasciitis may be related to physical activity overload, abnormal foot mechanics, or may be due to underlying diseases that cause arthritis, such as Reiter disease, ankylosing spondylitis, and diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. Treatment is designed to decrease inflammation and avoid reinjury. Icing reduces pain and inflammation. Anti-inflammatory agents, such as ibuprofen and injections of cortisone, can help. Infrequently, surgery is done on chronically inflamed spurs. A donut-shaped shoe insert can take pressure off a calcaneal spur and lessen plantar fasciitis.






Causes


Factors which may contribute to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs include a sudden increase in daily activities, increase in weight (not usually a problem with runners), or a change of shoes. Dramatic increase in training intensity or duration may cause plantar fasciitis. Shoes that are too flexible in the middle of the arch or shoes that bend before the toe joints will cause an increase in tension in the plantar fascia. Even though you may have run in shoes that are flexible before, now that you have developed plantar fasciitis, make certain that your shoe is stable and does not bend in the midfoot. Check and be certain that your shoes are not excessively worn. Shoes that do not sufficiently control excessive pronation combined with an increase in training can lead to this condition. A change in running style or parameters, such as starting speed work, running on the ball of your foot or sudden increase in hill workouts may lead to problems. All changes should be gradual and not abrupt. Gait changes such as altering your foot strike, switching shoe style, running barefoot or in minimalist shoes should all be made gradually and not abruptly. The "terrible too's" of too much, too soon, too often with too little rest also applies to "too many changes with too little adaptation". Make your changes gradually and allow your muscles, bones, and other body structures to adapt to the alterations you may be attempting.






Symptoms


The typical presentation is sharp pain localized at the anterior aspect of the calcaneus. Plantar fasciitis has a partial association with a heel spur (exostosis); however, many asymptomatic individuals have bony heel spurs, whereas many patients with plantar fasciitis do not have a spur.






Diagnosis


To diagnose plantar fasciitis, your doctor will physically examine your foot by testing your reflexes, balance, coordination, muscle strength, and muscle tone. Your doctor may also advise a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-ray to rule out other others sources of your pain, such as a pinched nerve, stress fracture, or bone spur.






Non Surgical Treatment


Treatment for plantar fasciitis includes medication, physical therapy, shock wave therapy, or surgery. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen are used to treat the inflammation and pain of plantar fasciitis, but they won’t cure the condition. Corticosteroids can also be used to ease pain and reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids are applied either as a topical solution in conjunction with a non-painful electric current or through injections to the affected area.


Plantar Fascitis






Surgical Treatment


When more conservative methods have failed to reduce plantar fasciitis pain, your doctor may suggest extracorporeal shock wave therapy, which is used to treat chronic plantar fasciitis. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy uses sound waves to stimulate healing, but may cause bruises, numbness, tingling, swelling, and pain. When all else fails, surgery may be recommended to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone. Few people need surgery to treat the condition.






Prevention


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.

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