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Heel Discomfort

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. Pain from plantar fasciitis is often most noticeable during the first few steps after getting out of bed in the morning. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue in the sole of the foot. Microtearing at the origin of the plantar fascia on the heel bone (calcaneus) can occur with repetitive loading. This microtearing leads to an inflammatory response (healing response) which produces the pain. Risk factors for plantar fasciitis include excessive standing, increased body weight, increasing age, a change in activity level, and a stiff calf muscle. Plantar fasciitis can be managed non-operatively in the vast majority of patients. The main components of an effective non-operative treatment program are: calf stretching with the knee straight, plantar fascia stretching, activity modification (to avoid precipitating activities), and comfort shoe wear.


Causes

Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining the ligament that supports your arch. Repeated strain can cause tiny tears in the ligament. These can lead to pain and swelling. This is more likely to happen if your feet roll inward too much when you walk ( excessive pronation ). You have high arches or flat feet. You walk, stand, or run for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces. You are overweight. You wear shoes that don’t fit well or are worn out. You have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles.


Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis sufferers feel a sharp stab or deep ache in the middle of the heel or along the arch. Another sign is the morning hobble from the foot trying to heal itself in a contracted position overnight. Taking that first step causes sudden strain on the bottom of the foot. The pain can recur after long spells of sitting, but it tends to fade during a run, once the area is warmed up.


Diagnosis

X-rays are a commonly used diagnostic imaging technique to rule out the possibility of a bone spur as a cause of your heel pain. A bone spur, if it is present in this location, is probably not the cause of your pain, but it is evidence that your plantar fascia has been exerting excessive force on your heel bone. X-ray images can also help determine if you have arthritis or whether other, more rare problems, stress fractures, bone tumors-are contributing to your heel pain.


Non Surgical Treatment

Night splints usually are designed to keep a person’s ankle in a neutral position overnight. Most individuals naturally sleep with the feet plantar-flexed, a position that causes the plantar fascia to be in a foreshortened position. A night dorsiflexion splint allows passive stretching of the calf and the plantar fascia during sleep. Theoretically, it also allows any healing to take place while the plantar fascia is in an elongated position, thus creating less tension with the first step in the morning. A night splint can be molded from plaster or fiberglass casting material or may be a prefabricated, commercially produced plastic brace. Several studies have shown that use of night splints has resulted in improvement in approximately 80 percent of patients using night splints. Other studies found that night splints were especially useful in individuals who had symptoms of plantar fasciitis that had been present for more than 12 months. Night splints were cited as the best treatment by approximately one third of the patients with plantar fasciitis who tried them. Disadvantages of night splints include mild discomfort, which may interfere with the patient’s or a bed partner’s ability to sleep.

Heel Pain


Surgical Treatment

The most common surgical procedure for plantar fasciitis is plantar fascia release. It involves surgical removal of a part from the plantar fascia ligament which will relieve the inflammation and reduce the tension. Plantar fascia release is either an open surgery or endoscopic surgery (insertion of special surgical instruments through small incisions). While both methods are performed under local anesthesia the open procedure may take more time to recover. Other surgical procedures can be used as well but they are rarely an option. Complications of plantar fasciitis surgery are rare but they are not impossible. All types of plantar fasciitis surgery pose a risk of infection, nerve damage, and anesthesia related complications including systemic toxicity, and persistence or worsening of heel pain.


Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises for your foot are important. Do the stretches shown here at least twice a day. Don’t bounce when you stretch. Plantar fascia stretch. To do the plantar fascia stretch, stand straight with your hands against a wall and your injured leg slightly behind your other leg. Keeping your heels flat on the floor, slowly bend both knees. You should feel the stretch in the lower part of your leg. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat the stretch 6 to 8 times. Calf stretch. Stand with your hands against a wall and your injured leg behind your other leg. With your injured leg straight, your heel flat on the floor and your foot pointed straight ahead, lean slowly forward, bending the other leg. You should feel the stretch in the middle of your calf. Hold the stretch for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat the stretch 6 to 8 times. Other exercises. You can also strengthen your leg muscles by standing on the ball of your foot at the edge of a step and raising up as high as possible on your toes. Relax between toe raises and let your heel fall a little lower than the edge of the step. It’s also helpful to strengthen the foot by grabbing a towel with your toes as if you are going to pick up the towel with your foot. Repeat this exercise several times a day.

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