Heel pain is one of the most common conditions to affect the foot. It is usually felt as an intense pain when the affected heel is used. The pain is usually worse when you get out of bed in the morning or after a long period of activity. In most cases, only one heel is affected. After walking, the pain usually improves. However, it is common for it to be painful when you first take a step after a period of rest. The pain often worsens by the end of the day. Most cases of Heel Pain
are caused by damage and thickening of the plantar fascia. Sometimes, the surrounding tissue and the heel bone also become inflamed (swollen).
To understand the cause of the pain one must understand the anatomy of the foot and some basic mechanics in the function of the foot. A thick ligament, called the plantar fascia, is attached into the bottom of the heel and fans out into the ball of the foot, attaching into the base of the toes. The plantar fascia is made of dense, fibrous connective tissue that will stretch very little. It acts something like a shock absorber. As the foot impacts the ground with each step, it flattens out lengthening the foot. This action pulls on the plantar fascia, which stretches slightly. When the heel comes off the ground the tension on the ligament is released. Anything that causes the foot to flatten excessively will cause the plantar fascia to stretch greater that it is accustom to doing. One consequence of this is the development of small tears where the ligament attaches into the heel bone. When these small tears occur, a very small amount of bleeding occurs and the tension of the plantar fascia on the heel bone produces a spur on the bottom of the heel to form. Pain experienced in the bottom of the heel is not produced by the presence of the spur. The pain is due to excessive tension of the plantar fascia as it tears from its attachment into the heel bone. Heel spur formation is secondary to the excessive pull of the plantar fascia where it attaches to the heel bone. Many people have heel spurs at the attachment of the plantar fascia with out having any symptoms or pain. There are some less common causes of heel pain but they are relatively uncommon. There are several factors that cause the foot to flatten and excessively stretching the plantar fascia. The primary factor is the structure of a joint complex below the ankle joint, called the subtalar joint. The movement of this joint complex causes the arch of the foot to flatten and to heighten. Flattening of the arch of the foot is termed pronation and heightening of the arch is called supination. If there is excessive pronation of the foot during walking and standing, the plantar fascia is strained. Over time, this will cause a weakening of the ligament where it attaches into the heel bone, causing pain. When a person is at rest and off of their feet, the plantar fascia attempts to mend itself. Then, with the first few steps the fascia re-tears causing pain. Generally, after the first few steps the pain diminishes. This is why the heel pain tends to be worse the first few steps in the morning or after rest. Another factor that contributes to the flattening of the arch of the foot is tightness of the calf muscles. The calf muscle attaches into the foot by the achilles tendon into the back of the heel. When the calf muscle is tight it limits the movement of the ankle joint. When ankle joint motion is limited by the tightness of the calf muscle it forces the subtalar joint to pronate excessively. Excessive subtalar joint pronation can cause several different problems to occur in the foot. In this instance, it results in excessive tension of the plantar fascia. Tightness of the calf muscles can be a result of several different factors. Exercise, such as walking or jogging will cause the calf muscle to tighten. Inactivity or prolonged rest will also cause the calf muscle to tighten. Women who wear high heels and men who wear western style cowboy boots will, over time, develop tightness in the calf muscles.
Both heel pain and heel spurs are frequently associated with an inflammation of the long band of tissue that connects the heel and the ball of the foot. The inflammation of this arch area is called plantar fasciitis. The inflammation maybe aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support and by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an athletic lifestyle. Achilles Tendinopathy, Pain and inflammation of the tendon at the back of the heel that connects the calf muscle to the foot. Sever?s, Often found in children between the ages of 8 - 13 years and is an inflammation of the calcaneal epiphyseal plate (growth plate) in the back of the heel. Bursitis, An inflamed bursa is a small irritated sack of fluid at the back of the heel. Other types of heel pain include soft tissue growths, Haglunds deformity (bone enlargement at the back of the heel), bruises or stress fractures and possible nerve entrapment.
A podiatrist (doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of foot diseases) will carry out a physical examination, and ask pertinent questions about the pain. The doctor will also ask the patient how much walking and standing the patient does, what type of footwear is worn, and details of the his/her medical history. Often this is enough to make a diagnosis. Sometimes further diagnostic tests are needed, such as blood tests and imaging scans.
Non Surgical Treatment
The following steps may help relieve your heel pain. Use crutches to take weight off your feet. Rest as much as possible for at least a week. Apply ice to the painful area. Do this at least twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes, more often in the first couple of days. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Wear proper-fitting shoes. Use a heel cup, felt pads in the heel area, or shoe insert. Wear night splints. Your doctor may recommend other treatments, depending on the cause of your heel pain. Call your doctor if your heel pain does not get better after 2 - 3 weeks of home treatment. Also call if your pain is getting worse despite home treatment. Your pain is sudden and severe. You have redness or swelling of your heel. You cannot put weight on your foot.
At most 95% of heel pain can be treated without surgery. A very low percentage of people really need to have surgery on the heel. It is a biomechanical problem and it?s very imperative that you not only get evaluated, but receive care immediately. Having heel pain is like having a problem with your eyes; as you would get glasses to correct your eyes, you should look into orthotics to correct your foot. Orthotics are sort of like glasses for the feet. They correct and realign the foot to put them into neutral or normal position to really prevent heel pain, and many other foot issues. Whether it be bunions, hammertoes, neuromas, or even ankle instability, a custom orthotic is something worth considering.
Maintaining flexible and strong muscles in your calves, ankles, and feet can help prevent some types of heel pain. Always stretch and warm-up before exercising. Wear comfortable, properly fitting shoes with good arch support and cushioning. Make sure there is enough room for your toes.