What Causes Heel Discomfort

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common conditions causing heel pain. The condition involves inflammation of the plantar fascia — a tough, fibrous band of tissue that runs along the sole of the foot with attachments to the heel bone (calcaneus) proximally and to the base of the toes distally. The plantar fascia provides support to the arch of the foot and has an important role in normal foot mechanics during walking. Tension or stress in the plantar fascia increases when one places weight on the foot (such as with standing) and as one pushes off on the ball of the foot and toes — motions which occur during normal walking or running. Inflammation and pain start in the fascia either as a result of an increase in activity level (as in initiating a walking or running program), or in association with the normal aging process. With aging, the fascia loses some of its normal elasticity or resilience and can become irritated with routine daily activities. Less commonly, plantar fasciitis can develop in association with general medical conditions such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.


Causes

When the foot moves, the plantar fascia stretches and contracts. Plantar fasciitis is caused by the repetitive overstretching of the plantar fascia. If the tension on the plantar fascia is too great, this overstretching causes small tears in the plantar fascia. This in turn causes the plantar fascia to become inflamed and painful. Factors that contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis include having very high arches or flat feet, gender, while anyone can develop plantar fasciitis, it tends to occur more commonly in women, exercises such as running, walking and dancing, particularly if the calf muscles are tight. Activities or occupations that involve walking or standing for long periods of time, particularly on hard surfaces, wearing high heeled shoes or shoes that do not offer adequate arch support and cushioning, being overweight, additional weight increases the tension on the plantar fascia, poor biomechanics, extra tension is placed on the plantar fascia if weight is not spread evenly when standing, walking or running. Some cases of plantar fasciitis may be linked to underlying diseases that cause arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis.


Symptoms

Plantar fascia usually causes pain and stiffness on the bottom of your heel although some people have heel spurs and suffer no symptoms at all. Occasionally, heel pain is also associated with other medical disorders such as arthritis (inflammation of the joint), bursitis (inflammation of the tissues around the joint). Those who have symptoms may experience ‘First step’ pain (stone bruise sensation) after getting out of bed or sitting for a period of time. Pain after driving. Pain on the bottom of your heel. Deep aching pain. Pain can be worse when barefoot.


Diagnosis

A health care professional will ask you whether you have the classic symptoms of first-step pain and about your activities, including whether you recently have intensified your training or changed your exercise pattern. Your doctor often can diagnose plantar fasciitis based on your history and symptoms, together with a physical examination. If the diagnosis is in doubt, your doctor may order a foot X-ray, bone scan or nerve conduction studies to rule out another condition, such as a stress fracture or nerve problem.


Non Surgical Treatment

The key for the proper treatment of plantar fasciitis is determining what is causing the excessive stretching of the plantar fascia. When the cause is over-pronation (flat feet), an orthotic with rearfoot posting and longitudinal arch support is an effective device to reduce the over-pronation and allow the condition to heal. If you have usually high arches, which can also lead to plantar fasciitis, cushion the heel, absorb shock and wear proper footwear that will accommodate and comfort the foot. Other common treatments include stretching exercises, plantar fasciitis night splints, wearing shoes that have a cushioned heel to absorb shock, and elevating the heel with the use of a heel cradle or heel cup. Heel cradles and heel cups provide extra comfort, cushion the heel, and reduce the amount of shock and shear forces placed during everyday activities.

Pain Of The Heel


Surgical Treatment

The most dramatic therapy, used only in cases where pain is very severe, is surgery. The plantar fascia can be partially detached from the heel bone, but the arch of the foot is weakened and full function may be lost. Another surgery involves lengthening the calf muscle, a process called gastrocnemius recession. If you ignore the condition, you can develop chronic heel pain. This can change the way you walk and cause injury to your legs, knees, hips and back. Steroid injections and some other treatments can weaken the plantar fascia ligament and cause potential rupture of the ligament. Surgery carries the risks of bleeding, infection, and reactions to anesthesia. Plantar fascia detachment can also cause changes in your foot and nerve damage. Gastrocnemius resection can also cause nerve damage.

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