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What Exactly Causes Heel Discomfort

Heel Pain

Overview

To find out where this condition gets its name, we need to look at a specific area of the foot. Your foot is made up of bones, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The plantar fascia is a relatively inflexible, strong, fibrous band on the bottom of the foot that supports the arch of your foot. Beginning at the heel bone, the plantar fascia extends the length of your foot to connect with your toes at the ball of the foot. When you walk, your weight is distributed across your feet. Any imbalances in the mechanics of your foot and distribution of weight can potentially cause pain. Diseases involving inflammation end with "itis." This explains the name of the condition as being an inflammation of the plantar fascia, thus plantar fasciitis. Repetitive movements such as walking or running stretch the plantar fascia. Because it is not very flexible, this can cause small tears in the fascia, which leads to inflammation and pain. Other factors such as high arches, fallen arches, or a change in the walking surface contribute to the stress placed on the plantar fascia and heel.




Causes

Under normal circumstances, your plantar fascia acts like a shock-absorbing bowstring, supporting the arch in your foot. If tension on that bowstring becomes too great, it can create small tears in the fascia. Repetitive stretching and tearing can cause the fascia to become irritated or inflamed.




Symptoms

Among the symptoms for Plantar Fasciitis is pain usually felt on the underside of the heel, often most intense with the first steps after getting out of bed in the morning. It is commonly associated with long periods of weight bearing or sudden changes in weight bearing or activity. Plantar Fasciitis also called “policeman’s heel” is presented by a sharp stabbing pain at the bottom or front of the heel bone. In most cases, heel pain is more severe following periods of inactivity when getting up and then subsides, turning into a dull ache.




Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor checks for points of tenderness in your foot. The location of your pain can help determine its cause. Usually no tests are necessary. The diagnosis is made based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally your doctor may suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn't being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve. Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.




Non Surgical Treatment

Most doctors recommend an initial six- to eight-week program of conservative treatment, including Rest, balanced with stretching exercises to lengthen the heel cord and plantar fascia. Ice massage to the bottom of the foot after activities that trigger heel pain. Avoidance of walking barefoot or wearing slippers or sandals that provide little arch support. A temporary switch to swimming and/or bicycling instead of sports that involve running and jumping. Shoes with soft heels and insoles. Taping the bottom of the injured foot. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brand names), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. Physical therapy using ultrasound, electrical stimulation with corticosteroids or massage techniques. If this conservative treatment does not help, your doctor may recommend that you wear a night splint for six to eight weeks. While you sleep, the night splint will keep your foot in a neutral or slightly flexed (bent) position to help maintain the normal stretch of the plantar fascia and heel cord. If the night splint doesn't work, your doctor may inject corticosteroid medication into the painful area or place your foot in a short leg cast for one to three months. Shock wave therapy, in which focused sound energy is applied to the sore heel, may be recommended for plantar fasciitis. The shock waves are intended to irritate or injure the plantar fascia to promote healing. The overall benefit of this approach is uncertain. Other therapies that have been tried include radiation therapy and botulinum toxin injections. But their effectiveness is unclear. If all else fails, your doctor may suggest surgery. But this is rare, and surgery is not always successful.

Plantar Fasciitis




Surgical Treatment

Surgery for plantar fasciitis can be very successful in the right patients. While there are potential complications, about 70-80% of patients will find relief after plantar fascia release surgery. This may not be perfect, but if plantar fasciitis has been slowing you down for a year or more, it may well be worth these potential risks of surgery. New surgical techniques allow surgery to release the plantar fascia to be performed through small incisions using a tiny camera to locate and cut the plantar fascia. This procedure is called an endoscopic plantar fascia release. Some surgeons are concerned that the endoscopic plantar fascia release procedure increases the risk of damage to the small nerves of the foot. While there is no definitive answer that this endoscopic plantar fascia release is better or worse than a traditional plantar fascia release, most surgeons still prefer the traditional approach.

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