Home » Plantar Fasciitis » What Is Painful Heel

What Is Painful Heel

Heel Discomfort

Overview

To find out where this condition gets its name, we need to look at a specific area of the foot. Your foot is made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The plantar fascia is a relatively inflexible, strong, fibrous band on the bottom of the foot that supports the arch of your foot. Beginning at the heel bone, the plantar fascia extends the length of your foot to connect with your toes at the ball of the foot. When you walk, your weight is distributed across your feet. Any imbalances in the mechanics of your foot and distribution of weight can potentially cause pain. Diseases involving inflammation end with “itis.” This explains the name of the condition as being an inflammation of the plantar fascia, thus plantar fasciitis. Repetitive movements such as walking or running stretch the plantar fascia. Because it is not very flexible, this can cause small tears in the fascia, which leads to inflammation and pain. Other factors such as high arches, fallen arches, or a change in the walking surface contribute to the stress placed on the plantar fascia and heel.


Causes

Plantar Fasciitis often leads to heel pain, heel spurs, and/or arch pain. The excessive stretching of the plantar fascia that leads to the inflammation and discomfort can be caused by the following: Over-pronation (flat feet) which results in the arch collapsing upon weight bearing A foot with an unusually high arch A sudden increase in physical activity Excessive weight on the foot, usually attributed to obesity or pregnancy Improperly fitting footwear Over-pronation (flat feet) is the leading cause of plantar fasciitis. Over-pronation occurs in the walking process, when a person’s arch collapses upon weight bearing, causing the plantar fascia to be stretched away from the heel bone. With Plantar Fasciitis, the bottom of your foot usually hurts near the inside of the foot where the heel and arch meet. The pain is often acute either first thing in the morning or after a long rest, because while resting the plantar fascia contracts back to its original shape. As the day progresses and the plantar fascia continues to be stretched, the pain often subsides.


Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis is characterized by the following signs and symptoms. Acute plantar fasciitis, pain is usually worse in the morning but may improve when activity continues; if the plantar fasciitis is severe, activity will exacerbate the pain, pain will worsen during the day and may radiate to calf or forefoot, pain may be described anywhere from “minor pulling” sensation, to “burning”, or to “knife-like”, the plantar fascia may be taut or thickened, passive stretching of the plantar fascia or the patient standing on their toes may exacerbate symptoms, acute tenderness deep in the heel-pad along the insertion of the plantar aponeurosis at the medial calcaneal tuberosity and along the length of the plantar fascia, may have localized swelling. Chronic plantar fasciitis, plantar fasciitis is classified as “chronic” if it has not resolved after six months, pain occurs more distally along the aponeurosis and spreads into the Achilles tendon.


Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor checks for points of tenderness in your foot. The location of your pain can help determine its cause. Usually no tests are necessary. The diagnosis is made based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally your doctor may suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn’t being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve. Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.


Non Surgical Treatment

Rest the foot as much as you can, especially during the beginning of the treatment. Try to avoid unnecessary foot activity like running, or excess standing. Instead, perform exercises that do not put stress on the injured foot, like bicycling or swimming. Apply ice to the painful area a few times a day to reduce inflammation. Try rolling the arch of the foot over a tennis ball or a baseball. A good treatment is rolling the arch of the foot over a frozen soft drink can. This exercise cools and stretches the affected area. You can use over-the-counter pain relievers (ibuprofen, naproxen) to reduce pain and inflammation. Use an over-the-counter arch support or heel support. Avoid walking barefoot, because it may add stress on the plantar fascia. Exercise your feet to make the muscles, ligaments, tendons and other parts stronger. Stronger foot muscles give better support to the plantar fascia preventing it from another injury. Stretching the foot, the plantar fascia and the calf muscles a few times a day is an essential part of treatment and prevention.

Foot Pain


Surgical Treatment

Most patients have good results from surgery. However, because surgery can result in chronic pain and dissatisfaction, it is recommended only after all nonsurgical measures have been exhausted. The most common complications of release surgery include incomplete relief of pain and nerve damage.


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.

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