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What Exactly Can Cause Heel Pain

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar Fasciitis is the most common condition of heel pain. This condition occurs when the long fibrous plantar fascia ligament along the bottom of the foot develops tears in the tissue resulting in pain and inflammation. The pain of plantar fasciitis is usually located close to where the fascia attaches to the calcaneous, also known as the heel bone. The condition is often misspelled as: plantar fascitis, plantar fasciatis, planters fasciitis, plantar faciatis, and plantar faciaitis. Plantar fasciitis causes the inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament which runs along the bottom of the foot. The plantar fascia ligament is made of fibrous bands of tissue and runs between the heel bone and your toes and stretches with every step. Inflammation develops when tears occur in the tissue. The most common complaint from plantar fasciitis is a burning, stabbing, or aching pain in the heel of the foot. Most sufferers will be able to feel it in the morning because the fascia ligament tightens up during the night while we sleep, causing pain to diminish. However, when we climb out of bed and place pressure on the ligament, it becomes taut and pain is particularly acute. Pain usually decreases as the tissue warms up, but may easily return again after long periods of standing or weight bearing, physical activity, or after getting up after long periods of lethargy or sitting down. In most cases, plantar fasciitis does not require surgery or invasive procedures to stop pain and reverse damage. Conservative treatments are usually all that is required. However, every person’s body responds to plantar fasciitis treatment differently and recovery times may vary.


Causes

This is a problem of either extreme, so people with high arches or those that have very flat feet are at risk of developing pain in this region. This is because of the relative stress the plantar fascia is put under. In people with excessive pronation, the plantar fascia is put under too much stretch, as their range flattens and strains it. People with a stiff, supinated (high-arched) foot lack the flexibility to appropriately shock absorb, so this too puts extra strain on the plantar fascia. Clinically, we see more people presenting with plantar fascia pain who have excessive pronation than those with stiff, supinated feet. But while the foot type is the biggest risk factor for plantar fasciitis, the whole leg from the pelvis down can affect how the foot hits the ground. A thorough biomechanical assessment will determine where in the kinetic chain things have gone wrong to cause the overload.


Symptoms

You’ll typically first notice early plantar fasciitis pain under your heel or in your foot arch in the morning or after resting. Your heel pain will be worse with the first steps and improves with activity as it warms up. As plantar fasciitis deteriorates, the pain will be present more often. You can determine what stage your are in using the following guidelines. No Heel Pain, Normal! Heel pain after exercise. Heel pain before and after exercise. Heel pain before, during and after exercise. Heel pain all the time. Including at rest! This symptom progression is consistent with the four stages of a typical overuse injury. Ultimately, further trauma and delayed healing will result in the formation of calcium (bone) within the plantar fascia. When this occurs adjacent to the heel bone it is known as heel spurs, which have a longer rehabilitation period.


Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for tenderness in your foot and the exact location of the pain to make sure that it’s not caused by a different foot problem. The doctor may ask you to flex your foot while he or she pushes on the plantar fascia to see if the pain gets worse as you flex and better as you point your toe. Mild redness or swelling will also be noted. Your doctor will evaluate the strength of your muscles and the health of your nerves by checking your reflexes, your muscle tone, your sense of touch and sight, your coordination, and your balance. X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be ordered to check that nothing else is causing your heel pain, such as a bone fracture.


Non Surgical Treatment

Conservative treatment is almost always successful, given enough time. Traditional treatment often includes, rest, NSAIDs, and new shoes or heel inserts. Some doctors also recommend avoiding walking bare-footed. This means you’d have to wear your shoes as soon as you wake up. Certain foot and calf exercises are often prescribed to slowly build strength in the ligaments and muscles that support the arch of the foot. While traditional treatment usually relieves pain, it can last from several months to 2 years before symptoms get better. On average, non-Airrosti patients tend to get better in about 9 months.

Heel Pain


Surgical Treatment

Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.


Stretching Exercises

The following exercises are commonly prescribed to patients with this condition. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 2 – 3 times daily and only provided they do not cause or increase symptoms. Your physiotherapist can advise when it is appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate and advanced exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this stretch in long sitting with your leg to be stretched in front of you. Your knee and back should be straight and a towel or rigid band placed around your foot as demonstrated. Using your foot, ankle and the towel, bring your toes towards your head until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf, Achilles tendon, plantar fascia or leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times at a mild to moderate stretch provided the exercise is pain free. Resistance Band Calf Strengthening. Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your foot as demonstrated and your foot and ankle held up towards your head. Slowly move your foot and ankle down against the resistance band as far as possible and comfortable without pain, tightening your calf muscle. Very slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 10 – 20 times provided the exercise is pain free.