Do You Understand Heel Pain?

Overview

Heel Discomfort

Heel pain is one of the most common conditions to affect the foot. It is usually felt as an intense pain when the affected heel is used. The pain is usually worse when you get out of bed in the morning or after a long period of activity. In most cases, only one heel is affected. After walking, the pain usually improves. However, it is common for it to be painful when you first take a step after a period of rest. The pain often worsens by the end of the day. Most cases of heel pain are caused by damage and thickening of the plantar fascia. Sometimes, the surrounding tissue and the heel bone also become inflamed (swollen).

Causes

In the majority of cases, heel pain has a mechanical cause. It may also be caused by arthritis, infection, an autoimmune problem trauma, a neurological problem, or some other systemic condition (condition that affects the whole body).

Symptoms

Pain in the heel can be caused by many things. The commonest cause is plantar fascitis. 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).

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

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.

Surgical Treatment

Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.

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Prevention

Painful Heel

It may not be possible to prevent all cases of heel pain. However, there are some easy steps that you can take to avoid injury to the heel and prevent pain. Whenever possible, you should wear shoes that fit properly and support the foot, wear the right shoes for physical activity, stretch your muscles before exercising, pace yourself during physical activity, maintain a healthy diet, rest when you feel tired or when your muscles ache, maintain a healthy weight.
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