What Causes Heel Ache

Heel Pain

Overview

Feet Pain

The heel is the first bone to contact the ground when walking and takes the full force of impact and the resulting shock of bearing weight during motion. The primary symptom is pain in the heel area that varies in severity and location. The pain is commonly intense when getting out of bed or a chair. The pain often lessens when walking. The most common cause of Heel Pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a stretching of the plantar fascia, a ligament that runs from the ball of foot through the arch and is attached to the heel. It is that attachment which becomes aggravated and typically causes pain after being on your feet for lengths of time. Abnormal motion of the foot (pronation) is one cause of plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs, which are abnormal bone growths coming off the heel, can also cause heel pain. Other causes include repetitive stress or shock to the heel, standing for prolonged periods or osteoarthritis. To prevent heel pain, always wear properly fitting shoes, place insoles or inserts in your shoes to help control abnormal foot motion, maintain a healthy weight, exercise and do foot stretches as they have been shown to decrease the incidence of heel pain.

Causes

The most common cause of heel pain is a pull on the heel bone exerted by the muscles and ligaments (plantar fascia shown in illustration above) that support the arch of the foot. This is an overuse condition similar to bursitis of the shoulder or tennis elbow. Plantar fasciitis is typically very painful in the morning during the first few steps, after sitting and again at the end of the day.

Symptoms

The primary symptom is pain in the heel area that varies in severity and location. The pain is commonly intense when getting out of bed or a chair. The pain often lessens when walking.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.

Non Surgical Treatment

The proper treatment for your heel pain depends entirely on the specific cause(s) of your symptoms. Therefore, it is critical to understand the cause(s) of your symptoms before beginning any treatment program and if you are unsure, then seeking medical advice is essential to develop the proper treatment program for your condition. Some common treatments are listed and can be performed at home. Keep in mind that not all of these treatments are appropriate for every condition, but they usually a good place to start. Rest, reducing activities for a few days can help to reduce the most severe pain. Ice, applying ice to the heel for 10 minutes several times a day will help to reduce inflammation. Stretching exercises, to lengthen the muscles in the back of the leg, including the hamstrings, will help to ease pain, reduce focal pressures to your feet and assist in recovery. For plantar fasciitis, this may be the best treatment of all. Avoid going barefoot, when without shoes excessive stress and strain is placed on the plantar fascia. Proper shoe gear, supportive shoes that fit and are not too worn along with good arch support help to reduce the stress and strain on the plantar fascia over time. Medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, such as Motrin (ibuprofen), may help to reduce inflammation. If the pain persists or worsens after a couple of days, an appointment may be necessary where Dr. Talarico may add one or more of these additional modalities to your treatment program. Orthotic b, whether pre-fabricated or custom orthotic is used, these devices can help reduce the underlying structural abnormalities of the foot which have lead to the development of plantar fasciitis. These are often used to limit the recurrence of plantar fasciitis pain. Strapping, a special taping technique to help reduce the strain on the fascia. Injection therapy, in some instances injections are used to reduce the inflammation and reduce pain. Night Splint, this allows you to maintain an extended stretch on the plantar fascia while sleeping. Over time, this has shown to reduce the morning pain which some people experience. Removable Walking Cast, in some case of severe heel pain this may be used to keep your foot immobile for a few weeks allowing it to rest and heal. Physical Therapy may be recommended to aid in pain relief. At The Foot & Ankle Center, PC, Dr Talarico will often utilize two additional in-office modalities, EPAT and MLS Laser Therapy, which are very effective in treating most inflammatory conditions of the foot and ankle, including plantar fasciitis.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is a last resort in the treatment of heel pain. Physicians have developed many procedures in the last 100 years to try to cure heel pain. Most procedures that are commonly used today focus on several areas, remove the bone spur (if one is present), release the plantar fascia (plantar fasciotomy), release pressure on the small nerves in the area. Usually the procedure is done through a small incision on the inside edge of the foot, although some surgeons now perform this type of surgery using an endoscope. An endoscope is a tiny TV camera that can be inserted into a joint or under the skin to allow the surgeon to see the structures involved in the surgery. By using the endoscope, a surgeon can complete the surgery with a smaller incision and presumably less damage to normal tissues. It is unclear whether an endoscopic procedure for this condition is better than the traditional small incision. Surgery usually involves identifying the area where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel and releasing the fascia partially from the bone. If a small spur is present this is removed. The small nerves that travel under the plantar fascia are identified and released from anything that seems to be causing pressure on the nerves. This surgery can usually be done on an outpatient basis. This means you can leave the hospital the same day.

Prevention

Foot Pain

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.