What Is Heel Discomfort And Tips On How To Alleviate It

Foot Pain

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is characterized by stiffness and inflammation of the main fascia (fibrous connective [ligament-like] tissue) on the bottom of the foot. It is occasionally associated with a bone spur on the heel. Occasionally there may be a partial or complete tear of the fascia of the bottom of the foot. Bone spurs themselves usually do not cause symptoms.


Causes

Training on improper, hard and/or irregular surfaces as well as excessive track work in spiked shoes, or steep hill running, can stress the plantar fascia past its limits of elasticity, leading to injury. Finally, failure in the early season to warm up gradually gives the athlete insufficient time for the structures of the foot to re-acclimate and return to a proper fitness level for intensive exercise. Such unprepared and repeated trauma causes microscopic tearing, which may only be detected once full-blown plantar fasciitis and accompanying pain and debilitation have resulted. If the level of damage to the plantar fascia is significant, an inflammatory reaction of the heel bone can produce spike-like projections of new bone, known as heel spurs. Indeed, plantar fasciitis has occasionally been refereed to as heel spur syndrome, though such spurs are not the cause of the initial pain but are instead a further symptom of the problem. While such spurs are sometimes painless, in other cases they cause pain or disability in the athlete, and surgical intervention to remove them may be required. A dull, intermittent pain in the heel is typical, sometimes progressing to a sharp, sustained discomfort. Commonly, pain is worse in the morning or after sitting, later decreasing as the patient begins walking, though standing or walking for long periods usually brings renewal of the pain.


Symptoms

The heel pain characteristic of plantar fasciitis is usually felt on the bottom of the heel and is most intense with the first steps of the day. Individuals with plantar fasciitis often have difficulty with dorsiflexion of the foot, an action in which the foot is brought toward the shin. This difficulty is usually due to tightness of the calf muscle or Achilles tendon, the latter of which is connected to the back of the plantar fascia. Most cases of plantar fasciitis resolve on their own with time and respond well to conservative methods of treatment.


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

About 90% of plantar fasciitis cases are self-limited and will improve within six months with conservative treatment and within a year regardless of treatment. Many treatments have been proposed for the treatment of plantar fasciitis. First-line conservative approaches include rest, heat, ice, calf-strengthening exercises, techniques to stretch the calf muscles, achilles tendon, and plantar fascia, weight reduction in the overweight or obese, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen. NSAIDs are commonly used to treat plantar fasciitis, but fail to resolve the pain in 20% of people. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) is an effective treatment modality for plantar fasciitis pain unresponsive to conservative nonsurgical measures for at least three months. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used for cases of plantar fasciitis refractory to more conservative measures. The injections may be an effective modality for short-term pain relief up to one month, but studies failed to show effective pain relief after three months. Notable risks of corticosteroid injections for plantar fasciitis include plantar fascia rupture, skin infection, nerve or muscle injury, or atrophy of the plantar fat pad. Custom orthotic devices have been demonstrated as an effective method to reduce plantar fasciitis pain for up to 12 weeks. Night splints for 1-3 months are used to relieve plantar fasciitis pain that has persisted for six months. The night splints are designed to position and maintain the ankle in a neutral position thereby passively stretching the calf and plantar fascia overnight during sleep. Other treatment approaches may include supportive footwear, arch taping, and physical therapy.

Foot Pain


Surgical Treatment

Surgery is rarely needed in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. The vast majority of patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis will recover given ample time. With some basic treatment steps, well over 90% of patients will achieve full recovery from symptoms of plantar fasciitis within one year of the onset of treatment. Simple treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, shoe inserts, and stretching exercises. In patients where a good effort with these treatments fails to provide adequate relief, some more aggressive treatments may be attempted. These include cortisone injections or extracorporeal shock wave treatments.


Stretching Exercises

In one exercise, you lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and heel on the ground. Your other knee is bent. Your heel cord and foot arch stretch as you lean. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times for each sore heel. It is important to keep the knee fully extended on the side being stretched. In another exercise, you lean forward onto a countertop, spreading your feet apart with one foot in front of the other. Flex your knees and squat down, keeping your heels on the ground as long as possible. Your heel cords and foot arches will stretch as the heels come up in the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times. About 90 percent of people with plantar fasciitis improve significantly after two months of initial treatment. You may be advised to use shoes with shock-absorbing soles or fitted with an off-the-shelf shoe insert device like a rubber heel pad. Your foot may be taped into a specific position. If your plantar fasciitis continues after a few months of conservative treatment, your doctor may inject your heel with steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. If you still have symptoms, you may need to wear a walking cast for two to three weeks or a positional splint when you sleep. In a few cases, surgery is needed for chronically contracted tissue.

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