Heel pain is most commonly caused by plantar fasciitis, which is the swelling of the tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes at the bottom part of the foot, also known as the plantar fascia.
Plantar fasciitis is often described as sharp pain in the middle of the heel, which is typically worse after periods of rest when fascia contracts. The pain usually becomes more bearable as the
muscles loosen up during the low-impact walking, but can return even worse after extended periods of walking or standing. The plantar fascia serves as a shock absorber and supports the footâs arch.
Too much tension on the plantar fascia can cause inflammation and swelling. Fortunately in most cases, plantar fasciitis treatment is fairly conservative. Plantar fasciitis exercises, medications and
orthotics are usually all thatâs needed to manage the pain. Most severe cases may require surgery.
The plantar fascia can also become aggravated by repetitive activity. If you increase the number of times the heel hits the ground, that can cause plantar fasciitis, a number of people develop
problems when their feet are unaccustomed to hard tile or wood floors. Other risk factors for plantar fasciitis include obesity, an extra high or low foot arch, and activities like running.
Plantar fasciitis which usually occurs on one foot at a time typically develops slowly. Some cases can be sudden and severe. If you suspect that you have plantar fasciitis, you should feel a sharp,
stabbing heel pain, usually in the inside bottom part of the heel. The pain will likely be worse when you take the first steps after long periods of rest (especially after sleep). The pain may also
worsen as you stand, climb stairs, or tiptoe. You typically will not feel a lot of pain during exercise, but will feel the ache after. In some cases, the affected heel may even swell.
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 health care providers agree that initial treatment for plantar fasciitis should be quite conservative. You'll probably be advised to avoid any exercise that is making your pain worse. Your
doctor may also advise one or more of these treatment options. A heel pad. In plantar fasciitis, a heel pad is sometimes used to cushion the painful heel if you spend a great deal of time on your
feet on hard surfaces. Also, over-the-counter or custom-made orthotics, which fit inside your shoes, may be constructed to address specific imbalances you may have with foot placement or gait.
Stretching: Stretching exercises performed three to five times a day can help elongate the heel cord. Ice: You may be advised to apply ice packs to your heel or to use an ice block to massage the
plantar fascia before going to bed each night. Pain relievers: Simple over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, are often helpful in decreasing inflammation
and pain. If you have stomach trouble from such drugs, your health care provider may prescribe an alternative. A night splint: A night splint is sometimes used to hold your foot at a specific angle,
which prevents the plantar fascia from shortening during sleep. Ultrasound: Ultrasound therapy can be performed to decrease inflammation and aid healing. Steroid injections: Anti-inflammatory steroid
injections directly into the tissue around your heel may be temporarily helpful. However, if these injections are used too many times, you may suffer other complications, such as shrinking of the fat
pad of your heel, which you need for insulation. Loss of the fat pad could actually increase your pain, or could even rupture the plantar fascia in rare cases. Walking cast: In cases of long-term
plantar fasciitis unresponsive to usual treatments, your doctor may recommend that you wear a short walking cast for about three weeks. This ensures that your foot is held in a position that allows
the plantar fascia to heal in a stretched, rather than shortened, position. Shock wave therapy, Extracorporeal shock wave therapy which may be prescribed prior to considering surgery if your symptoms
have persisted for more than six months. This treatment does not involve any actual incisions being made rather it uses a high intensity shock wave to stimulate healing of the plantar fascia.
Surgery is not a common treatment for this condition. Approximately 5% of people with plantar fasciitis require surgery if non-surgical methods do not help to relieve pain within a year. The surgical
procedure involves making an incision in the plantar fascia in order to decrease the tension of the ligament. Potential risks of this surgical procedure include irritation of the nerves around the
heel, continued plantar fasciitis, heel or foot pain, infection, flattening of the arch, problems relating to the anesthetic.
An important part of prevention is to perform a gait analysis to determine any biomechanical problems with the foot which may be causing the injury. This can be corrected with orthotic inserts into
the shoes. If symptoms do not resolve then surgery is an option, however this is more common for patients with a rigid high arch where the plantar fascia has shortened.