What Causes Heel Pain And Discomfort

Overview

Pain Under The Heel

You are at an increased risk of gradual wear and tear damaging your plantar fasciitis if you are overweight or obese - if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over, you are considered to be obese, have a job that involves spending long periods of time standing, wear flat-soled shoes - such as sandals or flip flops. Less common causes of heel pain are described below. A stress fracture can occur if your heel bone is damaged during an injury. Fat pad atrophy is where the layer of fat that lies under the heel bone, known as the fat pad, starts to waste away due to too much strain being placed on the pad. Women who wear high-heeled shoes for many years have an increased risk of developing fat pad atrophy. Bursitis is inflammation of one or more bursa (small fluid-filled sacs under the skin, usually found over the joints and between tendons and bones). It's possible to develop bursitis anywhere inside the body, not just in the foot. Tarsal tunnel syndrome. The nerves in the sole of your foot pass through a small tunnel on the inside of the ankle joint, known as the tarsal tunnel. If a cyst forms or the tunnel is damaged, the nerves can become compressed (squashed). This can cause pain anywhere along the nerve, including beneath your heel. Sever's disease is a common cause of heel pain in children. It's caused by the muscles and tendons of the hamstrings and calves stretching and tightening in response to growth spurts. The stretching of the calf muscle pulls on the Achilles tendon. This pulls on the growing area of bone at the back of the heel (growth plate), causing pain in the heel. The pain is further aggravated by activities such as football and gymnastics. The pain often develops at the side of the heel, but can also be felt under the heel. Calf and hamstring stretches and, if necessary, heel pads are usually effective treatments for Sever's disease. Bone spurs are an excess growth of bone that forms on a normal bone. Bone spurs can develop on the heel (a heel spur) and are more common in people with heel pain. However, they can also occur in people without heel pain. A heel spur does not cause heel pain.

Causes

There is no one cause of heel pain. Whole text books have been written on Disorders of the Heel. Some of the types of problems that can be seen in the heel include Heel spurs, these are small bony spurs that often develop on the bottom of the heel. They do not really cause any problems. It is only mentioned here as it is a common myth that they are a problem - almost always the pain associated with heel spurs is really plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain and is due to a strain of the long ligament along the bottom of the foot. The most symptom is pain when getting out of bed first thing in the morning ('post-static dyskinesia') A number of disease processes can uncommonly cause heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and gout. Stress fractures, which is an abnormal reaction of bone to stress can occur in those that are very active (eg athletes) or have weaker bones (eg osteoporosis) Pain at the back of the heel could be due to a number of problems, there could be a bursitis at the back of the heel bone (sometimes called 'Haglund's) there could be problems with the insertion of the achilles tendon, such as tendonitis or calcification. A 'stone' bruise is sometimes considered to be a cause of heel pain, its is simply a bruise of the bone. Another cause of heel pain is problems in the calf muscles that refer pain to the heel (myofascial trigger points) or pain referred from the lower back via the nerves from the back to the heel. Heel pain in children is usually due to severs disease or calcaneal apophysitis.

Symptoms

Initially, this pain may only be present when first standing up after sleeping or sitting. As you walk around, the muscle and tendon loosen and the pain goes away. As this problem progresses, the pain can be present with all standing and walking. You may notice a knot or bump on the back of the heel. Swelling may develop. In some cases, pressure from the back of the shoe causes pain.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will listen to your complaints about your heel and examine you to see what is causing the pain, and whether anything else has started it off. If the cause of your pain seems obvious, your doctor may be happy to start treatment straight away. However, some tests may be helpful in ruling out other problems. Blood tests may be done for arthritis. An Xray will show any arthritis in the ankle or subtalar joint, as well as any fracture or cyst in the calcaneum. (It will also show a spur if you have one, but as we know this is not the cause of the pain.) Occasionally a scan may be used to help spot arthritis or a stress fracture.

Non Surgical Treatment

If you still have pain after several weeks, see your foot and ankle surgeon, who may add one or more of these treatment approaches, padding and strapping. Placing pads in the shoe softens the impact of walking. Strapping helps support the foot and reduce strain on the fascia. Orthotic devices. Custom orthotic devices that fit into your shoe help correct the underlying structural abnormalities causing the plantar fasciitis. Injection therapy. In some cases, corticosteroid injections are used to help reduce the inflammation and relieve pain. Removable walking cast. A removable walking cast may be used to keep your foot immobile for a few weeks to allow it to rest and heal. Night splint. Wearing a night splint allows you to maintain an extended stretch of the plantar fascia while sleeping. This may help reduce the morning pain experienced by some patients. Physical therapy. Exercises and other physical therapy measures may be used to help provide relief.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is a last resort in the treatment of heel pain. Physicians have developed many procedures in the last 100 years to try to cure heel pain. Most procedures that are commonly used today focus on several areas, remove the bone spur (if one is present), release the plantar fascia (plantar fasciotomy), release pressure on the small nerves in the area. Usually the procedure is done through a small incision on the inside edge of the foot, although some surgeons now perform this type of surgery using an endoscope. An endoscope is a tiny TV camera that can be inserted into a joint or under the skin to allow the surgeon to see the structures involved in the surgery. By using the endoscope, a surgeon can complete the surgery with a smaller incision and presumably less damage to normal tissues. It is unclear whether an endoscopic procedure for this condition is better than the traditional small incision. Surgery usually involves identifying the area where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel and releasing the fascia partially from the bone. If a small spur is present this is removed. The small nerves that travel under the plantar fascia are identified and released from anything that seems to be causing pressure on the nerves. This surgery can usually be done on an outpatient basis. This means you can leave the hospital the same day.

heel spur surgery

Prevention

Heel Pain

The following steps will help prevent plantar fasciitis or help keep the condition from getting worse if you already have it. The primary treatment is rest. Cold packs application to the area for 20 minutes several times a day or after activities give some relief. Over-the-counter pain medications can help manage the pain, consult your healthcare professional. Shoes should be well cushioned, especially in the midsole area, and should have the appropriate arch support. Some will benefit from an orthotic shoe insert, such as a rubber heel pad for cushioning. Orthotics should be used in both shoes, even if only one foot hurts. Going barefoot or wearing slipper puts stress on your feet. Put on supportive shoes as soon as you get out of bed. Calf stretches and stretches using a towel (place the towel under the ball of your feet and pull gently the towel toward you and hold a few seconds) several times a day, especially when first getting up in the morning. Stretching the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel is especially important before sports, but it is helpful for nonathletes as well. Increasing your exercise levels gradually. Staying at a healthy weight. Surgery is very rarely required.
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