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.
There are many reasons why people experience heel pain. Based on what we see in our office, heel pain affects, probably more than one in every four people. A lot of this is caused from conditions within the foot. These conditions could be related to hyper pronation, which is where you get a collapse of the foot or even a high arch of the foot called cavus foot. The underlying cause is something internal, within the bone structure. These problems are usually something you will have all your life. Hyper pronation is a hereditary issue where you can get an under development of a particular bone, usually in the ankle, and it causes a dislocation or a misalignment of the ankle on the heel. It throws off, not only the foot with the bones, joints and ligaments of the foot, but also the bones in the ankle. It affects the internal rotation of the knee, hip, back and causes issues within those areas as well. Hyper pronation is a pretty common, but very under diagnosed condition.
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.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as have you had this type of heel pain before? When did your pain begin? Do you have pain upon your first steps in the morning or after your first steps after rest? Is the pain dull and aching or sharp and stabbing? Is it worse after exercise? Is it worse when standing? Did you fall or twist your ankle recently? Are you a runner? If so, how far and how often do you run? Do you walk or stand for long periods of time? What kind of shoes do you wear? Do you have any other symptoms? Your doctor may order a foot x-ray. You may need to see a physical therapist to learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your foot. Your doctor may recommend a night splint to help stretch your foot. Surgery may be recommended in some cases.
Non Surgical Treatment
To properly treat heel pain, you must absorb shock, provide cushioning and elevate the heel to transfer pressure. This can be accomplished with a heel cup, visco heel cradle, or an orthotic designed with materials that will absorb shock and shear forces. When the condition is pronation related (usually plantar fasciitis), an orthotic with medial posting and good arch support will control the pronation and prevent the inflammation of the plantar fascia. Footwear selection is also an important criteria when treating heel pain. Shoes with a firm heel counter, good arch support, and appropriate heel height are the ideal choice. If the problem persists, consult your foot doctor.
If treatment hasn't worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery - where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.
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.