More than 20 percent of patients visit foot specialists because of heel pain, and approximately one-third of all patients I see come because of this problem. Over 50 percent of Americans will experience heel pain during their lifetime. The most common form of heel pain is known as plantar fasciitis or "heel spur syndrome." The plantar fascia is a thick ligament on the bottom of your foot spanning from your heel to the base of your toes. It supports the arch and several muscles under the bones that support the foot. Overtime, most people will develop some degree of calcification within these muscles on the bottom of their heel called a "spur."
Heel pain is often the result of the plantar fascia being overstretched or overused. Risk factors include. Obesity or sudden weight gain. Long distance running. Tight Achilles tendons. Shoes with poor arch support or soft soles. Foot arch problems (both high arches and flat feet).
Initially, this pain may only be present when first standing up after sleeping or sitting. As you walk around, the muscle and tendon loosen and the pain goes away. As this problem progresses, the pain can be present with all standing and walking. You may notice a knot or bump on the back of the heel. Swelling may develop. In some cases, pressure from the back of the shoe causes pain.
The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is generally made during the history and physical examination. There are several conditions that can cause heel pain, and plantar fasciitis must be distinguished from these conditions. Pain can be referred to the heel and foot from other areas of the body such as the low back, hip, knee, and/or ankle. Special tests to challenge these areas are performed to help confirm the problem is truly coming from the plantar fascia. An X-ray may be ordered to rule out a stress fracture of the heel bone and to see if a bone spur is present that is large enough to cause problems. Other helpful imaging studies include bone scans, MRI, and ultrasound. Ultrasonographic exam may be favored as it is quick, less expensive, and does not expose you to radiation. Laboratory investigation may be necessary in some cases to rule out a systemic illness causing the heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Reiter's syndrome, or ankylosing spondylitis. These are diseases that affect the entire body but may show up at first as pain in the heel.
Non Surgical Treatment
If the plantar fasciitis is acute, that is, a sprain of the plantar fascia then it is basically treated as a sprain, with anti-inflammatory drugs, ice, rest, possibly physical therapy. If chronic, the poor foot mechanics need be addressed. Foot mechanics are changed by use of specially moulded shoe inserts known as orthotics. Someone with plantar fasciitis needs an orthotic designed to relieve strain on the plantar fascia. Orthotics are often confused with arch supports. Arch supports, by holding up the arch can remove some of the tension from the plantar fascia. Orthotics, on the other hand, do most of their work on the heel and ball of the foot repositioning the foot for maximized function. What can you do before you see the foot doctor? First, try doing your own version of deep tissue massage by rolling a frozen cola bottle or can from the heel forward into the arch. Do it gently. Do stretching but the key to good stretching is not to stretch too hard so generally avoid weight bearing (standing) stretches but sit on a soft surface like your bed and pull the foot backward on the leg as far as it will go, holding for 20 seconds and relaxing for 5 seconds. Each 25 second ?set? can be repeated 5 times and you have invested about 2 minutes in giving yourself a lot of help. Watch out for the shoes you wear. It is tempting to obtain shoes that are colorful and soft. Here is the proof that soft shoes are bad. Wrap a pillow around your foot with duct tape and walk for a block or two. You will come back with your foot hurting more because your foot sank down deeper into the soft surface, allowing the ligament to stretch more. The shoes should be stiff in the shank and flexible at the ball. Such shoes, to running buffs, are known as motion control shoes or stability shoes so going to one of the small specialty running shoes stores is a good place to start. If you don?t have a desk job, or have an industrial job see if light duty is available. A note from your doc may be all that is required in most cases and most doctors are happy to oblige.
At most 95% of heel pain can be treated without surgery. A very low percentage of people really need to have surgery on the heel. It is a biomechanical problem and it?s very imperative that you not only get evaluated, but receive care immediately. Having heel pain is like having a problem with your eyes; as you would get glasses to correct your eyes, you should look into orthotics to correct your foot. Orthotics are sort of like glasses for the feet. They correct and realign the foot to put them into neutral or normal position to really prevent heel pain, and many other foot issues. Whether it be bunions, hammertoes, neuromas, or even ankle instability, a custom orthotic is something worth considering.
Make sure you wear appropriate supportive shoes. Don't over-train in sports. Make sure you warm up, cool down and undertake an exercise regime that helps maintain flexibility. Manage your weight, obesity is a factor in causing plantar fasciitis. Avoid walking and running on hard surfaces if you are prone to pain. You should follow the recognized management protocol "RICED" rest, ice, compression, elevation and diagnosis. Rest, keep off the injured ankle as much as possible. Ice, applied for 20 minutes at a time every hour as long as swelling persists. Compression, support the ankle and foot with a firmly (not tightly) wrapped elastic bandage. Elevation, keep foot above heart level to minimize bruising and swelling. Diagnosis. Consult a medical professional (such as a Podiatrist or doctor) especially if you are worried about the injury, or if the pain or swelling gets worse. If the pain or swelling has not gone down significantly within 48 hours, also seek treatment. An accurate diagnosis is essential for proper rehabilitation of moderate to severe injuries.