The most common cause of heel pain is inflammation due to injury of the soft tissue around your heel. The plantar fascia is the area of your foot most likely to be inflamed, which results in plantar fasciitis. With plantar fasciitis, you experience a sharp burning or stabbing sensation upon arising after walking or standing for prolonged periods. Your first steps each morning probably hurt, too. Heel pain is occasionally caused by excessive pounding on the heels. This is more common in the elderly and overweight individuals whose heel fat pads no longer function properly. Watch for a bruising sensation under the heel when standing and walking. If you think this is your issue, an insert with an artificial fat pad might help alleviate your discomfort. Heel pain is by far the most common foot complaint. There are many medical conditions that are associated with heel pain, including gout and other forms of arthritis.
Heel pain has many causes. Heel pain is generally the result of faulty biomechanics (walking gait abnormalities) that place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues that attach to it. The stress may also result from injury, or a bruise incurred while walking, running, or jumping on hard surfaces; wearing poorly constructed footwear (such as flimsy flip-flops); or being overweight.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis are pain on the bottom of the heel, pain in the arch of the foot, pain that is usually worse upon arising, pain that increases over a period of months. People with plantar fasciitis often describe the pain as worse when they get up in the morning or after they?ve been sitting for long periods of time. After a few minutes of walking the pain decreases, because walking stretches the fascia. For some people the pain subsides but returns after spending long periods of time on their feet.
The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.
Non Surgical Treatment
Initial treatment should consist of an ice pack. Some runners prefer to use a wet towel that has been in the fridge. We recommend you use commercially available ice packs for focused pain released. An anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen will help to reduce the swelling. Please note this should be taken with meals and never before running. As with all soft tissue injuries, you may have to re-examine your training regime. A reduction or even a total break form running may be necessary. . Examine your running shoes, making sure the shoes do not bend excessively near the middle of the foot and at the ball of the foot. Sports shoes with built in insoles can be beneficial, however we recommend you replace existing insoles with specific sports orthotics/ insoles. Silicone heel cups, leather heel pads and contrasting cold and hot therapy can all help to speed up the healing process. The plantar fascia stretch will help to prevent the injury from occurring again. Please note that this stretch should not be done while the heel is inflamed and should only be attempted once you?re a feeling minimal or no pain from your heel.
It is rare to need an operation for heel pain. It would only be offered if all simpler treatments have failed and, in particular, you are a reasonable weight for your height and the stresses on your heel cannot be improved by modifying your activities or footwear. The aim of an operation is to release part of the plantar fascia from the heel bone and reduce the tension in it. Many surgeons would also explore and free the small nerves on the inner side of your heel as these are sometimes trapped by bands of tight tissue. This sort of surgery can be done through a cut about 3cm long on the inner side of your heel. Recently there has been a lot of interest in doing the operation by keyhole surgery, but this has not yet been proven to be effective and safe. Most people who have an operation are better afterwards, but it can take months to get the benefit of the operation and the wound can take a while to heal fully. Tingling or numbness on the side of the heel may occur after operation.
You can help to prevent heel pain by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch of the foot and cushion the heel. If you are prone to plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon (heel cord) and plantar fascia may help to prevent the area from being injured again. You also can massage the soles of your feet with ice after stressful athletic activities. Sometimes, the only interventions needed are a brief period of rest and new walking or running shoes.