Pain arises in the centre of the heel and sometimes can spread to the arch region of the foot. Some patients complain of intense Heel Pain when walking the first few steps in the morning and after periods of rest. The most common cause of heel pain is plantar fascitis. The plantar fascia is a broad band of tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. When this band of tissue is damaged due to biomechanical reasons or inappropriate running shoes then the tissue can become inflamed or even tear at the heel bone. This can be very painful.
As stated above, if biomechanical complaints such as over pronation exist during running then this can lead to planter fascitis and heel pain. Over pronation occurs when there is excessive mobility in the sab-taler joint of the foot which causes hyper mobility of the foot. Conditions such as flat feet can also cause over pronation. This increased mobility adversely affects all the muscles in the foot and can even affect the lower leg, upper leg and cause back pain. The mechanical imbalance is highlighted during running due to the increased forces being applied to the body Runners often complain that the pain increases when they enter the toe off phase of the running cycle as this stretches the muscle away from the heel bone. Apart from over pronation, other causes of planter fascitis are a change of running shoes, dramatic increases in speed work, hill work and mileage.
Symptoms may also include swelling that is quite tender to the touch. Standing, walking and constrictive shoe wear typically aggravate symptoms. Many patients with this problem are middle-aged and may be slightly overweight. Another group of patients who suffer from this condition are young, active runners.
The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is generally made during the history and physical examination. There are several conditions that can cause heel pain, and plantar fasciitis must be distinguished from these conditions. Pain can be referred to the heel and foot from other areas of the body such as the low back, hip, knee, and/or ankle. Special tests to challenge these areas are performed to help confirm the problem is truly coming from the plantar fascia. An X-ray may be ordered to rule out a stress fracture of the heel bone and to see if a bone spur is present that is large enough to cause problems. Other helpful imaging studies include bone scans, MRI, and ultrasound. Ultrasonographic exam may be favored as it is quick, less expensive, and does not expose you to radiation. Laboratory investigation may be necessary in some cases to rule out a systemic illness causing the heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Reiter's syndrome, or ankylosing spondylitis. These are diseases that affect the entire body but may show up at first as pain in the heel.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for plantar fasciitis should be directed at resting the plantar fascia, providing support for the arch area and limiting pronation. This is often accomplished with the use of supportive strapping with athletic tape, arch supports and orthotics. Heel lifts may also be helpful. Anti-inflammatories, pills as well as cortisone injections, may be effective as an adjunctive treatment by speeding up the reduction of inflammation. However, if used alone, anti-inflammatories rarely lead to resolution of the condition. Stretching exercises, physical therapy and night splints may also be helpful. The majority of cases respond to non-surgical treatment although it may take several weeks to reach a comfortable level. In those cases that do not respond adequately to conservative measures, surgical release of the plantar fascia may be considered. However, a new non-surgical treatment called Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) is now available as an option for recalcitrant plantar fasciitis. ESWT was approved by the FDA recently for the treatment of chronic heel pain. It has been in use for several years on thousands of patients in Europe and has been successfully used to restore patients with chronic plantar fasciitis to a normal, active lifestyle. ESWT is a non-invasive procedure that uses high intensity sound waves similar to what is routinely used to treat kidney stones. The treatment is usually performed in the office or in an outpatient surgical center. The procedure is performed under local anesthesia and takes about 25 minutes. The shockwaves are directed at the plantar fascia and stimulate an inflammatory healing response.
If treatment hasn't worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery - where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.
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.