Heel pain is a very common foot complaint and may involve injury to the bone, fat pad, ligaments, tendons or muscles. Heel pain can also be referred by a pinched nerve in your lower back. It is important to have your heel pain thoroughly assessed to ensure an accurate diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Anyone can suffer from heel pain, but certain groups seem to be at increased risk, including middle aged men and women, active people eg running sports, people who are very overweight, children aged between 8 and 13 years, pregnant women, people who stand for long periods of time.
he most common cause of heel pain is over pronation, this is when your foot rotates in too much as you walk. You really need to treat the underlying cause of the heel pain as soon as possible to prevent any further damage to the plantar fascia. Excessive load on the foot from obesity is a major cause of plantar fasciitis. Which is why this condition is common in middle aged and over weight adults. A sudden increase in weight, such as pregnancy can also lead to plantar fascitis. A sudden increase in walking or a sporting activity can also be a contributing factor. A classic example of when this condition can develop is when a post man has returned to work after a period away from the job. Tight plantar fascia (this is often caused by tight calf muscles). Excessive flattening of the arch on weight bearing i.e. flat feet. People with flat feet are more at risk of developing this condition. Biomechanical problems (walking abnormalities) is a major cause of plantar fasciitis. Different types of arthritis can also lead to this condition, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Symptoms include a dull ache which is felt most of the time with episodes of a sharp pain in the centre of the heel or on the inside margin of the heel. Often the pain is worse on first rising in the morning and after rest and is aggravated by prolonged weight bearing & thin soled shoes.
Your doctor will listen to your complaints about your heel and examine you to see what is causing the pain, and whether anything else has started it off. If the cause of your pain seems obvious, your doctor may be happy to start treatment straight away. However, some tests may be helpful in ruling out other problems. Blood tests may be done for arthritis. An Xray will show any arthritis in the ankle or subtalar joint, as well as any fracture or cyst in the calcaneum. (It will also show a spur if you have one, but as we know this is not the cause of the pain.) Occasionally a scan may be used to help spot arthritis or a stress fracture.
Non Surgical Treatment
Calf stretch, silicone Heel cups, ice, night splint, physical therapy. Sometimes custom orthotics are beneficial in long standing cases. Steroid injections have been used and although they temporarily relieve the pain, the pain usually returns within a short period of time. Plantar fasciitis tends to go away in 90% of all people in time. It can take 12-18 months for all the pain to resolve. If the pain continues after adequate treatment, high frequency shock wave therapy (OssaTron) has been found to be beneficial, unfortunately most insurance companies do not cover this procedure.
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).
back of heel cushions
Maintaining flexible and strong muscles in your calves, ankles, and feet can help prevent some types of heel pain. Always stretch and warm-up before exercising. Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes with good arch support and cushioning. Make sure there is enough room for your toes.