Heel pain is most commonly caused by plantar fasciitis, which is the swelling of the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes at the bottom part of the foot, also known as the plantar fascia. Plantar fasciitis is often described as sharp pain in the middle of the heel, which is typically worse after periods of rest when fascia contracts. The pain usually becomes more bearable as the muscles loosen up during the low-impact walking, but can return even worse after extended periods of walking or standing. The plantar fascia serves as a shock absorber and supports the foot’s arch. Too much tension on the plantar fascia can cause inflammation and swelling. Fortunately in most cases, plantar fasciitis treatment is fairly conservative. Plantar fasciitis exercises, medications and orthotics are usually all that’s needed to manage the pain. Most severe cases may require surgery.
Your plantar fascia (fay-sha) supports the arch of your foot as you run or walk. It is a thick, inelastic, fibrous band that starts in your heel, runs along the bottom of your foot, and spreads out to your toes. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of this fibrous band. If you are female or have a job that requires a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces you are more at risk for plantar fasciitis. Additional causes include Being overweight, Having flat feet or high arches, Wearing shoes with poor support, Walking or running for exercise, Tight calf muscles that limit how far you can flex your ankles, Running on soft terrain, Increase in activity level, Genetic predisposition.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the bottom of your foot, especially at the front or centre of the heel bone, pain that is worse when first rising in the morning (called “first-step pain”), when first standing up after any long period of sitting, or after increased levels of activity especially in non-supportive shoes. Seek medical advice about plantar fasciitis if you have heel pain or pain in the bottom of your foot, especially when you get up in the morning, that does not respond to treatment or if there is redness or bruising in the heel.
To diagnose plantar fasciitis, your doctor will physically examine your foot by testing your reflexes, balance, coordination, muscle strength, and muscle tone. Your doctor may also advise a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-ray to rule out other others sources of your pain, such as a pinched nerve, stress fracture, or bone spur.
Non Surgical Treatment
Orthotics are corrective foot devices. They are not the same as soft, spongy, rubber footbeds, gel heel cups etc. Gel and rubber footbeds may cushion the heels and feet, but they do not provide any biomechanical correction. In fact, gel can do the opposite and make an incorrect walking pattern even more unstable! Orthotic insoles work by supporting the arches while re-aligning the ankles and lower legs. Most people’s arches look quite normal when sitting or even standing. However, when putting weight on the foot the arches lower, placing added tension on the plantar fascia, leading to inflammation at the heel bone. Orthotics support the arches, which reduces the tension and overwork of the plantar fascia, allowing the inflamed tissue to heal. Orthotics needn’t be expensive, custom-made devices. A comprehensive Heel Pain study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society found that by wearing standard orthotics and doing a number of daily exercises, 95% of patients experienced substantial, lasting relief from their heel pain symptoms.
Plantar fasciotomy is often considered after conservative treatment has failed to resolve the issue after six months and is viewed as a last resort. Minimally invasive and endoscopic approaches to plantar fasciotomy exist but require a specialist who is familiar with certain equipment. Heel spur removal during plantar fasciotomy has not been found to improve the surgical outcome. Plantar heel pain may occur for multiple reasons and release of the lateral plantar nerve branch may be performed alongside the plantar fasciotomy in select cases. Possible complications of plantar fasciotomy include nerve injury, instability of the medial longitudinal arch of the foot, fracture of the calcaneus, prolonged recovery time, infection, rupture of the plantar fascia, and failure to improve the pain. Coblation (TOPAZ) surgery has recently been proposed as alternative surgical approaches for the treatment of recalcitrant plantar fasciitis.
In one exercise, you lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and heel on the ground. Your other knee is bent. Your heel cord and foot arch stretch as you lean. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times for each sore heel. It is important to keep the knee fully extended on the side being stretched. In another exercise, you lean forward onto a countertop, spreading your feet apart with one foot in front of the other. Flex your knees and squat down, keeping your heels on the ground as long as possible. Your heel cords and foot arches will stretch as the heels come up in the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times. About 90 percent of people with plantar fasciitis improve significantly after two months of initial treatment. You may be advised to use shoes with shock-absorbing soles or fitted with an off-the-shelf shoe insert device like a rubber heel pad. Your foot may be taped into a specific position. If your plantar fasciitis continues after a few months of conservative treatment, your doctor may inject your heel with steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. If you still have symptoms, you may need to wear a walking cast for two to three weeks or a positional splint when you sleep. In a few cases, surgery is needed for chronically contracted tissue.