Overview

Foot Pain

Plantar Fasciitis, also known as Heel Pain or a heel spur, is a musculoskeletal condition causing pain under the heel or into the inner arch of the foot. The condition is commonly mistaken for an impact trauma or heel bruise but in fact it is caused by mechanical overstretching of the fibrous tissue in the arch. Heel pain can develop suddenly or evolve gradually over time. It can affect people of all ages, but is more common beyond the 4th decade of life, those in standing occupations, overweight individuals and those involved in regular strenuous exercise.

Causes

Heel pain can have many causes but the vast majority is caused by plantar fasciitis. Plantar means, ?bottom of the foot.? Fascia is a ligament or ?bundle? of ligaments. The plantar fascia is the thick ligament that helps to hold up the foot and provide spring in our step. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia and causes more than 90% of heel pain among adults in the US. Plantar fasciitis can be acute, that is, as simple strain of the ligament but often is chronic, hanging on for months if not years. Why does that happen? The answer is poor foot mechanics, the foot sinking down too far allowing the plantar fascia to overstretch with each step taken.

Symptoms

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 maybe aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support and by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an athletic lifestyle. Achilles Tendinopathy, Pain and inflammation of the tendon at the back of the heel that connects the calf muscle to the foot. Sever?s, Often found in children between the ages of 8 – 13 years and is an inflammation of the calcaneal epiphyseal plate (growth plate) in the back of the heel. Bursitis, An inflamed bursa is a small irritated sack of fluid at the back of the heel. Other types of heel pain include soft tissue growths, Haglunds deformity (bone enlargement at the back of the heel), bruises or stress fractures and possible nerve entrapment.

Diagnosis

In most cases, your GP or a podiatrist (a specialist in foot problems and foot care) should be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and medical history, examining your heel and foot.

Non Surgical Treatment

Orthotics, by treating the cause of the problem, lead to the cure bette than 90% of the time. A small number of patients have waited so long that the plantar fascia has become thickened and filled with scar tissue and are not helped by ?conventional? means. Those are the patients that have, traditionally, required surgical treatment in which the plantar fascia is cut off the heel bone. Luckily, most surgery has been replaced by a relatively new mode of treatment, ESWT or Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy. ESWT involves the application of multiple shockwaves to the diseased tendon or ligament and has an approximately 85 to 90% success rate. Keep in mind we are talking about this success rate in patients who are ?tough cases,? that is, already had the conventional treatment. The ESWT machines look like miniature renal lithtripsors (kidney stone crushers). There are virtually no side effects to ESWT other than the price as only about 30% of insurance companies are paying for it. They realize that it is less costly and safer than surgery but also know that many more people who would avoid surgery would have no problem getting ESWT so the volume of services would go up. You don?t have to live with painful heels.

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.

Prevention

Foot 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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