Heel pain is usually felt either under the heel or just behind it. Heel Pain has a prevalence of 3.6%. US studies estimate that 7% of older adults report tenderness under the heel. Plantar fasciitis is estimated to account for 8% of all running-related injuries. There are 26 bones in the human foot, of which the heel is the largest. Pain typically comes on gradually, with no injury to the affected area. It is often triggered by wearing a flat shoe. In most cases the pain is under the foot, towards the front of the heel. The majority of patients recover with conservative treatments within months. Home care such as rest, ice, proper-fitting footwear and foot supports are often enough to ease heel pain. To prevent heel pain, it’s recommended to reduce the stress on that part of the body.
Heel pain can have many causes but the vast majority is caused by plantar fasciitis. Plantar means, ?bottom of the foot.? Fascia is a ligament or ?bundle? of ligaments. The plantar fascia is the thick ligament that helps to hold up the foot and provide spring in our step. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia and causes more than 90% of heel pain among adults in the US. Plantar fasciitis can be acute, that is, as simple strain of the ligament but often is chronic, hanging on for months if not years. Why does that happen? The answer is poor foot mechanics, the foot sinking down too far allowing the plantar fascia to overstretch with each step taken.
Usually worse with the first few steps in the morning or at the initial point of activity. The latter usually gets better with continued activity (squeaky hinge analogy). Walking, running, sprinting, hill running and jumping will increase the pain. Often, the natural response is to walk on the outside of the foot – in supination – to lessen the stress on the plantar fascia – resulting in new problems.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.
Non Surgical Treatment
Orthotics, by treating the cause of the problem, lead to the cure bette than 90% of the time. A small number of patients have waited so long that the plantar fascia has become thickened and filled with scar tissue and are not helped by ?conventional? means. Those are the patients that have, traditionally, required surgical treatment in which the plantar fascia is cut off the heel bone. Luckily, most surgery has been replaced by a relatively new mode of treatment, ESWT or Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy. ESWT involves the application of multiple shockwaves to the diseased tendon or ligament and has an approximately 85 to 90% success rate. Keep in mind we are talking about this success rate in patients who are ?tough cases,? that is, already had the conventional treatment. The ESWT machines look like miniature renal lithtripsors (kidney stone crushers). There are virtually no side effects to ESWT other than the price as only about 30% of insurance companies are paying for it. They realize that it is less costly and safer than surgery but also know that many more people who would avoid surgery would have no problem getting ESWT so the volume of services would go up. You don?t have to live with painful heels.
Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.
The following steps will help prevent plantar fasciitis or help keep the condition from getting worse if you already have it. The primary treatment is rest. Cold packs application to the area for 20 minutes several times a day or after activities give some relief. Over-the-counter pain medications can help manage the pain, consult your healthcare professional. Shoes should be well cushioned, especially in the midsole area, and should have the appropriate arch support. Some will benefit from an orthotic shoe insert, such as a rubber heel pad for cushioning. Orthotics should be used in both shoes, even if only one foot hurts. Going barefoot or wearing slipper puts stress on your feet. Put on supportive shoes as soon as you get out of bed. Calf stretches and stretches using a towel (place the towel under the ball of your feet and pull gently the towel toward you and hold a few seconds) several times a day, especially when first getting up in the morning. Stretching the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel is especially important before sports, but it is helpful for nonathletes as well. Increasing your exercise levels gradually. Staying at a healthy weight. Surgery is very rarely required.