Heel pain is a very challenging problem as it can be local and/or referred. It has been more prevalent recently due to the hard grounds on which people have to run. Commonly people will present with heel pain, thrusting an x-ray at you, and being adamant that the problem is a ?heel spur?. This is defined as a small bone that grows from the heel, directing forwards towards the toes. This may be as small as 1 mm to anything as large as 8 - 10 mm. Most of the time, this is an incidental finding, as there many heels that are pain free that have heel spurs evident on x-rays. The spur is thought to be a result of traction of the plantar fascia on the heel. In some cases, the spur may contribute to the symptoms, but is not the main cause. This should be explained very carefully to the patient, as the focus on the spur may limit the recovery, as the patient may believe that the only way to eliminate the pain is to remove the spur.
While heel pain has many causes, it is usually the result of faulty biomechanics (abnormalities in the way we walk). This can place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues attached 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; or being significantly overweight. Systemic diseases such as arthritis and diabetes can also contribute to heel pain. A common cause of heel pain is the heel spur, a bony growth under the heel bone. There are no visible features on the heel, but a deep painful spot can be found in or around the middle of the sole of the heel (see diagram). Approximately 10 per cent of the population may have heel spurs without any pain. Heel spurs result from strain on the muscles of the foot. This may result from biomechanical imbalance, a condition occurring in many people. 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 may be aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support, especially in the arch area, and by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an athletic lifestyle.Excessive rolling in of the feet when walking. An inflamed bursa (bursitis), a small, irritated sack of fluid at the back of the heel. A neuroma (a nerve growth). Other soft-tissue growths. Heel bumps or ?pump bumps?, a bone enlargement at the back of the heel bone. Bruises or stress fractures to the heel bone.
Pain in the bottom of the heel is the most common symptom. The pain is often described as a knife-like, pinpoint pain that is worse in the morning and generally improves throughout the day. By the end of the day the pain may be replaced by a dull ache that improves with rest. The pain results from stretching the damaged tissues. For the same reason atheletes' pain occurs during beginning stages of exercise and is relieved over time as warm-up loosens the fascia. Plantar fasciitis onset is usually gradual, only flaring up during exercise. If pain is ignored, it can eventually interfere with walking and overall, plantar fasciitis accounts for about ten percent of all running injuries.
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 of heel pain generally occurs in stages. At the earliest sign of heel pain, aggressive calf muscle stretching should be started. Additionally, taking an oral anti-inflammatory medication and over-the- counter arch supports or heel cushions may be beneficial. The next phase of treatment might consist of continued calf muscle stretching exercises, cortisone injections and orthopedic taping of the foot to support the arch. If this treatment fails, or if there is reoccurrence of the heel pain, then functional foot orthotics might be considered. A functional orthotic is a device that is prescribed and fitted by your foot doctor, which fits in normal shoes like an arch support. Unlike an arch support, however the orthotic corrects abnormal pronation of the subtalar joint. Thus orthotics address the cause of the heel pain - abnormal pronation of the foot. Pump bump, treatment is similar to the treatment of bursitis and heel spurs. In rare cases, the bony growth at the heel may need to be removed surgically. Heel bruises can be treated by applying an ice pack for the first few minutes after injury. Achilles tendonitis, this condition is treated conservatively with rest, NSAIDs and physical therapy. If a sprain, fracture or other injury has caused the trapped nerve, this underlying problem must be treated first. In rare cases, surgery may be done to release the trapped nerve.
Only a relatively few cases of heel pain require surgery. If required, surgery is usually for the removal of a spur, but also may involve release of the plantar fascia, removal of a bursa, or a removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.
Prevention of heel pain involves reducing the stress on that part of the body. Tips include. Barefeet, when on hard ground make sure you are wearing shoes. Bodyweight, if you are overweight there is more stress on the heels when you walk or run. Try to lose weight. Footwear, footwear that has material which can absorb some of the stress placed on the heel may help protect it. Examples include heel pads. Make sure your shoes fit properly and do not have worn down heels or soles. If you notice a link between a particular pair of shoes and heel pain, stop wearing them. Rest, if you are especially susceptible to heel pain, try to spend more time resting and less time on your feet. It is best to discuss this point with a specialized health care professional. Sports, warm up properly before engaging in activities that may place lots of stress on the heels. Make sure you have proper sports shoes for your task.