What Exactly Causes Heel Discomfort

Foot Pain

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a common, painful foot condition. Patients, and sometimes doctors often confuse the terms plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Plantar fasciitis refers to the syndrome of inflammation of the band of tissue that runs from the heel along the arch of the foot; a heel spur is a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone (calcaneus). About 70% of patients with plantar fasciitis have been noted to have a heel spur that can be seen on x-ray. Plantar fasciitis is most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups. The condition is diagnosed with the classic symptoms of pain well focused deep in the heel area of the bottom of the foot. Often the pain from plantar fasciitis is most severe when you first stand on your feet in the morning. Pain often subsides quite quickly, but then returns after prolonged standing or walking. Plantar fasciitis is sometimes, but not always, associated with a rapid gain of weight. It is also sometimes seen in recreational athletes, especially runners. In these athletes, it is thought that the repetitive nature of the sports causes the damage to the fibrous tissue that forms the arch of the foot.




Causes

Plantar fasciitis is one of those injuries that magically seems to appear for no apparent reason. However, plantar fasciitis is caused by one of two methods. They are either traction or compression injuries. Plantar fasciitis is most often associated with impact and running sports, especially those that involve toe running rather than heel running styles. It is also commonly diagnosed in individuals with poor foot biomechanics that stress the plantar fascia. Flat feet or weak foot arch control muscles are two common causes of plantar fasciitis.




Symptoms

Most people with plantar fasciitis have pain when they take their first steps after they get out of bed or sit for a long time. You may have less stiffness and pain after you take a few steps. But your foot may hurt more as the day goes on. It may hurt the most when you climb stairs or after you stand for a long time. If you have foot pain at night, you may have a different problem, such as arthritis , or a nerve problem such as tarsal tunnel syndrome.




Diagnosis

Physical examination is the best way to determine if you have plantar fasciitis. Your doctor examines the affected area to determine if plantar fasciitis is the cause of your pain. The doctor may also examine you while you are sitting, standing, and walking. It is important to discuss your daily routine with your doctor. An occupation in which you stand for long periods of time may cause plantar fasciitis. An X-ray may reveal a heel spur. The actual heel spur is not painful. The presence of a heel spur suggests that the plantar fascia has been pulled and stretched excessively for a long period of time, sometimes months or years. If you have plantar fasciitis, you may or may not have a heel spur. Even if your plantar fasciitis becomes less bothersome, the heel spur will remain.




Non Surgical Treatment

Reducing inflammation in the plantar fascia ligament is an important part of treatment, though this does not address the underlying damage to the ligament. Initial home treatment includes staying off your feet and applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes three or four times a day to reduce swelling. You can also try reducing or changing your exercise activities. Using arch supports in your shoes and doing stretching exercises may also help to relieve pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen (i.e. Motrin or Advil) and naproxen (i.e. Aleve), are often used to reduce inflammation in the ligament. If home treatments and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs don’t ease the pain, an injection of a corticosteroid directly into the damaged section of the ligament can be given. Your doctor can do this in his or her office. Your doctor may use an ultrasound device to help determine the best place for the injection. Corticosteroids can also be administered on the skin of your heel or the arch of your foot, and then a painless electrical current is applied to let the steroid pass through your skin and into the muscle. Physical therapy is an important part of treatment for planter fasciitis. It can help stretch your plantar fascia and Achilles tendons. A physical therapist can also show you exercises to strengthen your lower leg muscles, helping to stabilize your walk and lessen the workload on your plantar fascia. If pain continues and other methods aren’t working, your doctor may recommend extracorporeal shock wave therapy. Sound waves are bombarded against your heel to stimulate healing within the ligament. This treatment can result in bruises, swelling, pain, and numbness, and has not been proven to be consistently effective in relieving symptoms.

Plantar Fasciitis




Surgical Treatment

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.




Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises for the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are recommend to relieve pain and aid in the healing process. Sometimes application of athletic tape is recommended. In moderate or severe cases of plantar fasciitis, your doctor may recommend you wearing a night splint, which will stretch the arch of your foot and calf while you sleep. This helps to lengthen the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia for symptom relief. Depending on the severity of your plantar fasciitis, your physician may prescribe a store-bought orthotic (arch support) or custom-fitted orthotic to help distribute your foot pressure more evenly.

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