What Can Cause Heel Pain

Heel Discomfort

Overview

The plantar fascia (a connective tissue structure) stretches from the toes and ball of the foot, through the arch, and connects to the heel bone in three places: outside, center and inside. Normally it helps the foot spring as it rolls forward. It also provides support for the arch of the foot. The plantar fascia helps keep the foot on track, cutting down on oscillation. When the foot over-pronates (rolls to the inside) the plantar fascia tries to stabilize it and prevent excessive roll. In time, the inside and sometimes center connections are overstressed and pull away from their attachments. The first sign is usually heel pain as you rise in the morning. When you walk around, the pain may subside, only to return the next morning. Inflammation and increased soreness are the results of long-term neglect and continued abuse. A heel bone spur may develop after a long period of injury when there is no support for the heel. The plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone with small fibers. When these become irritated they become inflamed with blood containing white blood cells. Within the white blood cells are osteoblasts which calcify to form bone spurs and calcium deposits. The body is trying to reduce stress on that area by building a bone in the direction of stress. Unfortunately, these foreign substances cause pain and further irritation in the surrounding soft tissue.


Causes

Plantar fasciitis can develop when your feet roll in too far as you take each step. This rolling in, known as over-pronation, can happen for many reasons. It can be due to excessive weight gain, pregnancy, quickly increasing physical activity, tight calf muscles, poor biomechanics or merely wearing unsupportive, flat footwear. When your feet over-pronate, your arches can collapse, putting strain on the tissues in the bottom of your foot.


Symptoms

The typical presentation is sharp pain localized at the anterior aspect of the calcaneus. Plantar fasciitis has a partial association with a heel spur (exostosis); however, many asymptomatic individuals have bony heel spurs, whereas many patients with plantar fasciitis do not have a spur.


Diagnosis

Diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is based on a medical history, the nature of symptoms, and the presence of localised tenderness in the heel. X-rays may be recommended to rule out other causes for the symptoms, such as bone fracture and to check for evidence of heel spurs. Blood tests may also be recommended.


Non Surgical Treatment

Teatment of plantar fasciitis can be a long and frustrating process for both the coach and athlete. If you do not have a firm grasp of the goals of this rehabilitation program your best advice will be to find a professional who routinely deals with athletic injuries. The “down time” for plantar fasciitis will be at least six weeks and up to six months of conservative care before drastic measures like surgery should be considered. The goal of this rehab program is to initially increase the passive flexion of the foot eventually leading to improvements in dynamic balance and flexibility of the foot and ankle, followed by a full return to function.

Heel Pain


Surgical Treatment

Surgery is rarely needed in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. The vast majority of patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis will recover given ample time. With some basic treatment steps, well over 90% of patients will achieve full recovery from symptoms of plantar fasciitis within one year of the onset of treatment. Simple treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, shoe inserts, and stretching exercises. In patients where a good effort with these treatments fails to provide adequate relief, some more aggressive treatments may be attempted. These include cortisone injections or extracorporeal shock wave treatments.


Prevention

An important part of prevention is to perform a gait analysis to determine any biomechanical problems with the foot which may be causing the injury. This can be corrected with orthotic inserts into the shoes. If symptoms do not resolve then surgery is an option, however this is more common for patients with a rigid high arch where the plantar fascia has shortened.

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