Heel pain is a very common foot complaint and may involve injury to the bone, fat pad, ligaments, tendons or muscles. Heel pain can also be referred by a pinched nerve in your lower back. It is important to have your heel pain thoroughly assessed to ensure an accurate diagnosis and subsequent treatment. Anyone can suffer from heel pain, but certain groups seem to be at increased risk, including middle aged men and women, active people eg running sports, people who are very overweight, children aged between 8 and 13 years, pregnant women, people who stand for long periods of time.
The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is a stretching of the plantar fascia, a ligament that runs from the ball of foot through the arch and is attached to the heel. It is that attachment which becomes aggravated and typically causes pain after being on your feet for lengths of time. Abnormal motion of the foot (pronation) is one cause of plantar fasciitis. Heel spurs, which are abnormal bone growths coming off the heel, can also cause heel pain. Other causes include repetitive stress or shock to the heel, standing for prolonged periods or osteoarthritis.
Plantar fasciitis is a condition of irritation to the plantar fascia, the thick ligament on the bottom of your foot. It classically causes pain and stiffness on the bottom of your heel and feels worse in the morning with the first steps out of bed and also in the beginning of an activity after a period of rest. For instance, after driving a car, people feel pain when they first get out, or runners will feel discomfort for the first few minutes of their run. This occurs because the plantar fascia is not well supplied by blood, which makes this condition slow in healing, and a certain amount of activity is needed to get the area to warm up. Plantar fasciitis can occur for various reasons: use of improper, non-supportive shoes; over-training in sports; lack of flexibility; weight gain; prolonged standing; and, interestingly, prolonged bed rest.
The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment includes resting from the activities that caused the problem, doing certain stretching exercises, using pain medication and wearing open-back shoes. Your doctor may want you to use a 3/8" or 1/2" heel insert. Stretch your Achilles tendon by leaning forward against a wall with your foot flat on the floor and heel elevated with the insert. Use nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications for pain and swelling. Consider placing ice on the back of the heel to reduce inflammation.
Surgery is a last resort in the treatment of heel pain. Physicians have developed many procedures in the last 100 years to try to cure heel pain. Most procedures that are commonly used today focus on several areas, remove the bone spur (if one is present), release the plantar fascia (plantar fasciotomy), release pressure on the small nerves in the area. Usually the procedure is done through a small incision on the inside edge of the foot, although some surgeons now perform this type of surgery using an endoscope. An endoscope is a tiny TV camera that can be inserted into a joint or under the skin to allow the surgeon to see the structures involved in the surgery. By using the endoscope, a surgeon can complete the surgery with a smaller incision and presumably less damage to normal tissues. It is unclear whether an endoscopic procedure for this condition is better than the traditional small incision. Surgery usually involves identifying the area where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel and releasing the fascia partially from the bone. If a small spur is present this is removed. The small nerves that travel under the plantar fascia are identified and released from anything that seems to be causing pressure on the nerves. This surgery can usually be done on an outpatient basis. This means you can leave the hospital the same day.
You can try to avoid the things that cause heel pain to start avoid becoming overweight, where your job allows, minimise the shock to your feet from constant pounding on hard surfaces, reduce the shocks on your heel by choosing footwear with some padding or shock-absorbing material in the heel, if you have high-arched feet or flat feet a moulded insole in your shoe may reduce the stresses on your feet, if you have an injury to your ankle or foot, make sure you exercise afterwards to get back as much movement as possible to reduce the stresses on your foot and your heel in particular, If you start to get heel pain, doing the above things may enable the natural healing process to get underway and the pain to improve.