What Triggers Painful Heel

Plantar Fascitis

Overview

The plantar fascia is made up of 3 distinct parts: the medial, central, and lateral bands. The central plantar fascia is the thickest and strongest section, and this segment is also the most likely to be involved with plantar fasciitis. In normal circumstances, the plantar fascia acts like a windlass mechanism to provide tension and support through the arch. It functions as a tension bridge in the foot, providing both static support and dynamic shock absorption.




Causes

Each time we take a step forward, all of our body weight first rests on the heel of one foot. As our weight moves forward, the entire foot begins to bear the body's weight, and the foot flattens and this places a great deal of pressure and strain on the plantar fascia. There is very little elasticity to the plantar fascia, so as it stretches only slightly; it pulls on its attachment to the heel. If the foot is properly aligned this pull causes no problems. However, if the foot is "pronated" (the foot rolls outward at the ankle, causing a break down of the inner side of the shoe), the arch falls excessively, and this causes an abnormal stretching of the relatively inflexible plantar fascia, which in turn pulls abnormally hard on the heel. The same pathology occurs with "supination" (the rolling inward of the foot, causing a break down of the outer side of the shoe). Supinated feet are relatively in flexible; usually have a high arch, and a short or tight plantar fascia. Thus as weight is transferred from the heel to the remainder of the foot, the tight plantar fascia hardly stretches at all, and pulls with great force on its attachment to the heel.




Symptoms

Patients with plantar fasciitis typically experience pain underneath the heel and along the inner sole of the foot. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the plantar fascia or heel that increases with rest (typically at night or first thing in the morning) following activities which place stress on the plantar fascia. These activities typically include standing, walking or running excessively (especially up hills, on uneven surfaces or in poor footwear such as thongs), jumping, hopping and general weight bearing activity. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Patients with this condition may also experience swelling, tenderness on firmly touching the plantar fascia (often on a specific spot on the inner aspect of the heel) and sometimes pain on performing a plantar fascia stretch.




Diagnosis

The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show tenderness on the bottom of your foot, flat feet or high arches, mild foot swelling or redness, stiffness or tightness of the arch in the bottom of your foot. X-rays may be taken to rule out other problems.




Non Surgical Treatment

Plantar fasciitis is usually controlled with conservative treatment. Following control of the pain and inflammation an orthotic (a custom made shoe insert) will be used to stabilize your foot and prevent a recurrence. Over 98% of the time heel spurs and plantar fasciitis can be controlled by this treatment and surgery can be avoided. The orthotic prevents excess pronation and prevents lengthening of the plantar fascia and continued tearing of the fascia. Usually a slight heel lift and a firm shank in the shoe will also help to reduce the severity of this problem. The office visit will be used for careful examination and review to distinguish plantar fasciitis and plantar heel pain syndrome from other problems, many of which are outlined below. It is important to distinguish between a stress reaction of the calcaneus and plantar fasciitis. A feature of many calcaneal stress fractures is pain on lateral and medial compression of the calcaneus.

Plantar Fasciitis




Surgical Treatment

The majority of patients, about 90%, will respond to appropriate non-operative treatment measures over a period of 3-6 months. Surgery is a treatment option for patients with persistent symptoms, but is NOT recommended unless a patient has failed a minimum of 6-9 months of appropriate non-operative treatment. There are a number of reasons why surgery is not immediately entertained including. Non-operative treatment when performed appropriately has a high rate of success. Recovery from any foot surgery often takes longer than patients expect. Complications following this type of surgery can and DO occur! The surgery often does not fully address the underlying reason why the condition occurred therefore the surgery may not be completely effective. Prior to surgical intervention, it is important that the treating physician ensure that the correct diagnosis has been made. This seems self-evident, but there are other potential causes of heel pain. Surgical intervention may include extracorporeal shock wave therapy or endoscopic or open partial plantar fasciectomy.




Prevention

Do your best to maintain healthy weight. Plantar fasciitis is caused by wear and tear on your feet. Being overweight drastically increases the pounding your feet take every day. Even losing a few pounds can help reduce heel pain. Avoid jobs that require walking or standing for long periods of time. Having your body weight on your feet all day puts a lot of pressure on your plantar fascia tissue. Replace your shoes on a regular basis. Buy new shoes when the old ones are worn-out. Make sure your shoes will fit your foot size comfortably at the end of the day. Pay attention to the width as well as the length. Use good supportive shoes that will help you with your original problem like arch support, motion control, stability, cushioning etc. Stretch regularly as part of your daily routine. There are a few special stretching techniques for the prevention. Choose soft surfaces for your exercise routine to walk, jog or run on. Rest and elevate your feet every chance you have. Strengthen your foot muscles as part of your exercise routine. Strong foot muscles provide a good support to the plantar fascia. Change your shoes during the work week. Don't wear the same pair of shoes every day. Perform Warm up exercises such as a short period of walking, a light jog or other easy movement and then stretch before starting the main exercise. Try to avoid dramatic changes in your exercise routine. Increase your exercise level gradually. Don’t run long distance if you are used to walk. Make the change slowly and gradually. Pay attention to your foot pain, do not ignore it. Visit your doctor if the pain continues. Avoid the activities that cause you pain. Use over-the-counter Orthotics or inserts that your doctor may prescribe. Off-the-shelf or custom-fitted arch supports (orthotics) will help distribute pressure to your feet more evenly. Try to avoid barefoot walking, since it may add stress on the plantar fascia ligament.

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