Heel Pain is a very challenging problem as it can be local and/or referred. It has been more prevalent recently due to the hard grounds on which people have to run. Commonly people will present with heel pain, thrusting an x-ray at you, and being adamant that the problem is a heel spur. This is defined as a small bone that grows from the heel, directing forwards towards the toes. This may be as small as 1 mm to anything as large as 8 – 10 mm. Most of the time, this is an incidental finding, as there many heels that are pain free that have heel spurs evident on x-rays. The spur is thought to be a result of traction of the plantar fascia on the heel. In some cases, the spur may contribute to the symptoms, but is not the main cause. This should be explained very carefully to the patient, as the focus on the spur may limit the recovery, as the patient may believe that the only way to eliminate the pain is to remove the spur.
Heel pain is most often the result of overuse. Rarely, it may be caused by an injury. Your heel may become tender or swollen from shoes with poor support or shock absorption, running on hard surfaces, like concrete, running too often, tightness in your calf muscle or the Achilles tendon. Sudden inward or outward turning of your heel, landing hard or awkwardly on the heel. Conditions that may cause heel pain include when the tendon that connects the back of your leg to your heel becomes swollen and painful near the bottom of the foot, swelling of the fluid-filled sac (bursa) at the back of the heel bone under the Achilles tendon (bursitis). Bone spurs in the heel. Swelling of the thick band of tissue on the bottom of your foot (plantar fasciitis). Fracture of the heel bone that is related to landing very hard on your heel from a fall (calcaneus fracture).
Pain typically comes on gradually, with no injury to the affected area. It is frequently triggered by wearing a flat shoe, such as flip-flop sandals. Flat footwear may stretch the plantar fascia to such an extent that the area becomes swollen (inflamed). In most cases, the pain is under the foot, toward the front of the heel. Post-static dyskinesia (pain after rest) symptoms tend to be worse just after getting out of bed in the morning, and after a period of rest during the day. After a bit of activity symptoms often improve a bit. However, they may worsen again toward the end of the day.
A podiatrist (doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of foot diseases) will carry out a physical examination, and ask pertinent questions about the pain. The doctor will also ask the patient how much walking and standing the patient does, what type of footwear is worn, and details of the his/her medical history. Often this is enough to make a diagnosis. Sometimes further diagnostic tests are needed, such as blood tests and imaging scans.
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.
Only a relatively few cases of heel pain require surgery. If required, surgery is usually for the removal of a spur, but also may involve release of the plantar fascia, removal of a bursa, or a removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.
Wear shoes that fit well, front, back and sides and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid uppers and supportive heel counters. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm-up before running or walking, and do some stretching exercises afterward. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. If overweight, try non weight-bearing activities such as swimming or cycling. Your podiatrist may also use taping or strapping to provide extra support for your foot. Orthoses (shoe inserts) specifically made to suit your needs may be also be prescribed.