Heel pain is most often caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition that is sometimes also called heel spur syndrome when a spur is present. Heel Pain may also be due to other causes, such as a stress fracture, tendonitis, arthritis, nerve irritation, or rarely, a cyst. Because there are several potential causes, it is important to have heel pain properly diagnosed. A foot and ankle surgeon is able to distinguish between all the possibilities and determine the underlying source of your heel pain.
There are two different categories of heel pain. The first is caused by over-use repetitive stress which refers to a soreness resulting from too much impact on a specific area of the foot. This condition, often referred to as “heel pain syndrome,” can be caused by shoes with heels that are too low, a thinned out fat pad in the heel area, or from a sudden increase in activity. Plantar fasciitis, a very common diagnosis of heel pain, is usually caused from a biomechancial problem, such as over-pronation (flat feet). The plantar fascia is a broad band of fibrous tissue that runs along the bottom surface of the foot, from the heel through the midfoot and into the forefoot. Over-pronation can cause the plantar fascia to be excessively stretched and inflamed, resulting in pain in the heel and arch areas of the foot. Often the pain will be most intense first thing in the morning or after a prolonged period of rest. The pain will gradually subside as the day progresses.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain along the inside edge of the heel near the arch of the foot. The pain is worse when weight is placed on the foot especially after a long period of rest or inactivity. This is usually most pronounced in the morning when the foot is first placed on the floor. This symptom called first-step pain is typical of plantar fasciitis. Prolonged standing can also increase the painful symptoms. It may feel better after activity but most patients report increased pain by the end of the day. Pressing on this part of the heel causes tenderness. Pulling the toes back toward the face can be very painful.
Your doctor will listen to your complaints about your heel and examine you to see what is causing the pain, and whether anything else has started it off. If the cause of your pain seems obvious, your doctor may be happy to start treatment straight away. However, some tests may be helpful in ruling out other problems. Blood tests may be done for arthritis. An Xray will show any arthritis in the ankle or subtalar joint, as well as any fracture or cyst in the calcaneum. (It will also show a spur if you have one, but as we know this is not the cause of the pain.) Occasionally a scan may be used to help spot arthritis or a stress fracture.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treating plantar fasciitis in the early stages usually allows for a quicker recovery. Left untreated, this condition can progress to the point where there is pain with each and every step. This typically means a return to a pain free day will take much longer. Initial treatments are aimed at reducing stress on the fascia so it can begin to heal. Also, treatment to reduce the associated inflammation is started. These treatments often include: ice therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, stretching exercises, wearing shoes with appropriate support, taping of the foot and the use of a night splint. If these interventions do not lead to a full resolution, custom shoe inserts, cortisone injections and additional treatment by a physical therapist are often utilized. For patients that fail to respond to all of these efforts, surgical release of the plantar fascia can be a very effective course of action. The good news is this: 95% of the time plantar fasciitis can be fully resolved without the need for surgery. High energy shock wave therapy, sometimes referred to as orthotripsy, is a relatively new treatment that has been shown to be effective 70% of the time in patients that continue to have pain despite extensive non-surgical treatment.
When a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is made early, most patients respond to conservative treatment and don?t require surgical intervention. Often, when there is a secondary diagnosis contributing to your pain, such as an entrapped nerve, and you are non-responsive to conservative care, surgery may be considered. Dr. Talarico will discuss all options and which approach would be the most beneficial for your condition.
You should always wear footwear that is appropriate for your environment and day-to-day activities. Wearing high heels when you go out in the evening is unlikely to be harmful. However, wearing them all week at work may damage your feet, particularly if your job involves a lot of walking or standing. Ideally, you should wear shoes with laces and a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes with no heels. Do not walk barefoot on hard ground, particularly while on holiday. Many cases of heel pain occur when a person protects their feet for 50 weeks of the year and then suddenly walks barefoot while on holiday. Their feet are not accustomed to the extra pressure, which causes heel pain. If you do a physical activity, such as running or another form of exercise that places additional strain on your feet, you should replace your sports shoes regularly. Most experts recommend that sports shoes should be replaced after you have done about 500 miles in them. It is also a good idea to always stretch after exercising, and to make strength and flexibility training a part of your regular exercise routine.