Heel pain is common and can be due to a number of conditions. The calcaneus (heel bone) is the largest bone in the foot and is the first to hit the ground when walking. The heel bone is designed to be the first contact the foot has with the ground. The achilles tendon inserts into the back of the heel bone (calcaneus) and a very strong ligament along the bottom of the foot attaches to the bottom of the heel bone (the plantar fascia). Several small muscles also attach to the heel bone above the insertion of the plantar fascia. Given the forces of walking that the heel bone is subjected to and the pull of all these ligaments and muscles, then it is not surprising that Heel Pain is so common.
some heel pain can be caused by rheumatological diseases, and these pains can do a real good impersonation of plantar fasciitis symptoms. Seronegative Arthropathies such as Psoriatic Arthritis, Reactive Arthritis and Ankylosing Spondylisis are the most common types to cause heel pain by producing an inflammatory reaction where the fascia attaches to the heel. This is called an enthesitis. If you have a history of Psoriasis or a family history of other arthritic conditions listed above we recommend you see a clinician about your heel pain to confirm the diagnosis. Another occasional cause of heel pain is loss of the cushioning fat pad of the heel, which can result in a bruised heel bone (calcaneus). If you can easily feel your heel bone through your skin on the bottom of your foot you may well have poor fatty tissue on your heel. Pressing on the centre of your heel should feel like pushing into firm rubber, and your skin should not move easily. If you can pinch the skin under your heel and feel a very hard lump when you press the bottom of your heel then it is likely you have a heel fat pad problem. One simple final test is to walk on a hard floor. If you feel the pain only when your heel hits the ground a fat pad problem is most likely. If the pain mainly occurs as you lift the heel off the ground it is more likely to be plantar fasciitis.
Pain in the heel can be caused by many things. The commonest cause is plantar fascitis. Other causes include, being overweight, constantly being on your feet, especially on a hard surface like concrete and wearing hard-soled footwear, thinning or weakness of the fat pads of the heel, injury to the bones or padding of the heel, arthritis in the ankle or heel (subtalar) joint, irritation of the nerves on the inner or outer sides of the heel, fracture of the heel bone (calcaneum).
A podiatrist (doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of foot diseases) will carry out a physical examination, and ask pertinent questions about the pain. The doctor will also ask the patient how much walking and standing the patient does, what type of footwear is worn, and details of the his/her medical history. Often this is enough to make a diagnosis. Sometimes further diagnostic tests are needed, such as blood tests and imaging scans.
Non Surgical Treatment
Curing posterior heel pain requires calming the inflammation, resting the foot and increasing calf flexibility. Ice therapy and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to reduce the inflammation. Stopping exercises that stress the calf and Achilles is important. This includes walking, running and the use of stair climbers and elliptical machines. Placing a heel lift in each shoe can reduce some of the excess strain on the back of the heel. Stretching exercises to increase calf flexibility are important in curing this problem and preventing its recurrence. Wearing running shoes also provides good foot support and helps with this condition. Sometimes a walking boot is used to immobilize the ankle and let the area completely rest. Physical therapy is sometimes ordered to help reduce the inflammation and pain and to help improve the flexibility of the calf muscles. Occasionally these measures fail to relieve the pain and surgery may be needed. The surgical procedure involves removing bone spurs and repairing any damage to the tendon.
When a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is made early, most patients respond to conservative treatment and don?t require surgical intervention. Often, when there is a secondary diagnosis contributing to your pain, such as an entrapped nerve, and you are non-responsive to conservative care, surgery may be considered. Dr. Talarico will discuss all options and which approach would be the most beneficial for your condition.
Flexibility is key when it comes to staving off the pain associated with these heel conditions. The body is designed to work in harmony, so stretching shouldn?t be concentrated solely on the foot itself. The sympathetic tendons and muscles that move the foot should also be stretched and gently exercised to ensure the best results for your heel stretches. Take the time to stretch thighs, calves and ankles to encourage healthy blood flow and relaxed muscle tension that will keep pain to a minimum. If ice is recommended by a doctor, try freezing a half bottle of water and slowly rolling your bare foot back and forth over it for as long as is comfortable. The use of elastic or canvas straps to facilitate stretching of an extended leg can also be helpful when stretching without an assistant handy. Once cleared by a doctor, a daily regimen of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like Naproxen Sodium will keep pain at bay and increase flexibility in those afflicted by heel pain. While this medication is not intended to act as a substitute for medical assessments, orthopedics or stretching, it can nonetheless be helpful in keeping discomfort muted enough to enjoy daily life. When taking any medication for your heel pain, be sure to follow directions regarding food and drink, and ask your pharmacist about possible interactions with existing medications or frequent activities.