Heel Soreness

Overview

Foot Pain

Heel pain is a common foot condition. It’s usually felt as an intense pain when using the affected heel. Heel Pain usually builds up gradually and gets worse over time. The pain is often severe and occurs when you place weight on the heel. In most cases, only one heel is affected, although estimates suggest that around a third of people have pain in both heels. The pain is usually worse first thing in the morning, or when you first take a step after a period of inactivity. Walking usually improves the pain, but it often gets worse again after walking or standing for a long time. Some people may limp or develop an abnormal walking style as they try to avoid placing weight on the affected heel.

Causes

some heel pain can be caused by rheumatological diseases, and these pains can do a real good impersonation of plantar fasciitis symptoms. Seronegative Arthropathies such as Psoriatic Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylisis are the most common types to cause heel pain by producing an inflammatory reaction where the fascia attaches to the heel. This is called an enthesitis. If you have a history of Psoriasis or a family history of other arthritic conditions listed above we recommend you see a clinician about your heel pain to confirm the diagnosis. Another occasional cause of heel pain is loss of the cushioning fat pad of the heel, which can result in a bruised heel bone (calcaneus). If you can easily feel your heel bone through your skin on the bottom of your foot you may well have poor fatty tissue on your heel. Pressing on the centre of your heel should feel like pushing into firm rubber, and your skin should not move easily. If you can pinch the skin under your heel and feel a very hard lump when you press the bottom of your heel then it is likely you have a heel fat pad problem. One simple final test is to walk on a hard floor. If you feel the pain only when your heel hits the ground a fat pad problem is most likely. If the pain mainly occurs as you lift the heel off the ground it is more likely to be plantar fasciitis.

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

Depending on the condition, the cause of heel pain is diagnosed using a number of tests, including medical history, physical examination, including examination of joints and muscles of the foot and leg, X-rays.

Non Surgical Treatment

Once diagnosed, treatment for plantar fasciitis may include one or more of the following: advice on footwear, in particular use of arch-supportive footwear; avoid walking barefoot; stretching exercises, shoe modifications such as heel pads, taping and strapping, anti-inflammatories and orthotic devices to correct abnormal foot mechanics. Injection therapy with corticosteroids is only advisable if all the conservative treatment methods mentioned above have been exhausted due to undesired effects implicated with steroid infusion in the heels.

Surgical Treatment

If treatment hasn’t worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery – where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.

Prevention

Painful Heel

Wear shoes that fit well, front, back and sides and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid uppers and supportive heel counters. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm-up before running or walking, and do some stretching exercises afterward. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. If overweight, try non weight-bearing activities such as swimming or cycling. Your podiatrist may also use taping or strapping to provide extra support for your foot. Orthoses (shoe inserts) specifically made to suit your needs may be also be prescribed.

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