What Is Heel Discomfort

Plantar Fasciitis

Overview

The Plantar Fascia is a strong ligament-like structure under the arch of the foot that runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. If we could see it in isolation it has a triangular shape when looked at from underneath but has a curved shape when looked at from the side – much like a sail boat’s sail billowing in the wind. The most functional piece is from the front-bottom-inside area of the heel bone (calcaneous) to the joint of the big toe (hallux) and this is where the majority of stress of walking (and running and jumping) is taken by the fascia. How your plantar fascia reacts to and recovers from this stress is what determines the extent and nature of your plantar fasciitis.


Causes

Plantar Fasciitis is frequently cited as the number one cause of heel pain. The condition affects both children and adults. Children typically outgrow the problem, but affected adults may experience recurring symptoms over the course of many months or years. The syndrome afflicts both highly active and sedentary individuals. Typically, Plantar Fasciitis results from a combination of causes, including, pronation, a condition in which the plantar fascia doesn’t transfer weight evenly from the heel to the ball of the foot when you walk. Overuse of the feet without adequate periods of rest. High arches, flat feet or tightness in the Achilles’ tendon at the back of the heel. Obesity. Working conditions that involve long hours spent standing or lifting heavy objects. Worn or ill-fitting footwear. The normal aging process, which can result in a loss of soft tissue elasticity. Physical trauma to the foot, as in the case of taking a fall or being involved in a car accident.


Symptoms

Pain is the main symptom. This can be anywhere on the underside of your heel. However, commonly, one spot is found as the main source of pain. This is often about 4 cm forward from your heel, and may be tender to touch. The pain is often worst when you take your first steps on getting up in the morning, or after long periods of rest where no weight is placed on your foot. Gentle exercise may ease things a little as the day goes by, but a long walk or being on your feet for a long time often makes the pain worse. Resting your foot usually eases the pain. Sudden stretching of the sole of your foot may make the pain worse, for example, walking up stairs or on tiptoes. You may limp because of pain. Some people have plantar fasciitis in both feet at the same time.


Diagnosis

A health care professional will ask you whether you have the classic symptoms of first-step pain and about your activities, including whether you recently have intensified your training or changed your exercise pattern. Your doctor often can diagnose plantar fasciitis based on your history and symptoms, together with a physical examination. If the diagnosis is in doubt, your doctor may order a foot X-ray, bone scan or nerve conduction studies to rule out another condition, such as a stress fracture or nerve problem.


Non Surgical Treatment

Your doctor will determine what treatment is best for your condition. The most common treatments for plantar fasciitis include icing the affected area, inserting custom-made orthotics into your shoes, massaging the plantar fascia, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, strengthening the foot, wearing a night splint, wearing shoes with arch support, physical therapy, stretching the calf muscles, shockwave therapy or radiotherapy. To keep the plantar fascia lengthened as you sleep, your doctor may ask you to wear night splints. In the morning, taking your first steps is less painful because the plantar fascia remains stretched throughout the night. Avoiding activities such as walking or running helps the healing process. Losing weight, if it is a factor in the condition, may help to reduce the stress placed on the plantar fascia.

Heel Pain


Surgical Treatment

More invasive procedures to treat plantar fasciitis are usually sought only after other treatment has failed to produce favorable results. Corticosteroid injections deliver medicine into the injured fascia to reduce pain. However, this treatment may weaken the plantar fascia and result in further damage. In addition, extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is a treatment where sound waves are sent through the damaged tissue in order to stimulate the damaged tissue and encourage healing. This method is relatively new in treating plantar fasciitis and your doctor will be able to tell you if it is the right method for you. Lastly, surgery is the last option for those suffering from chronic or severe plantar fasciitis.


Prevention

The following steps will help prevent plantar fasciitis or help keep the condition from getting worse if you already have it. Take care of your feet. Wear shoes with good arch support and heel cushioning. If your work requires you to stand on hard surfaces, stand on a thick rubber mat to reduce stress on your feet. Do exercises to stretch the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel. This is especially important before sports, but it is helpful for non-athletes as well. Ask your doctor about recommendations for a stretching routine. Stay at a healthy weight for your height. Establish good exercise habits. Increase your exercise levels gradually, and wear supportive shoes. If you run, alternate running with other sports that will not cause heel pain. Put on supportive shoes as soon as you get out of bed. Going barefoot or wearing slippers puts stress on your feet. If you feel that work activities caused your heel pain, ask your human resources department for information about different ways of doing your job that will not make your heel pain worse. If you are involved in sports, you may want to consult a sports training specialist for training and conditioning programs to prevent plantar fasciitis from recurring.

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