Heel Pain

Heel Pain

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 anatomy of heel pain:

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.

The causes of heel pain:

There is no one cause of heel pain. Whole text books have been written on Disorders of the Heel. Some of the types of problems that can be seen in the heel include:

Heel spurs - these are small bony spurs that often develop on the bottom of the heel. They do not really cause any problems. It is only mentioned here as it is a common myth that they are a problem - almost always the pain associated with heel spurs is really plantar fasciitis.

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain and is due to a strain of the long ligament along the bottom of the foot. The most symptom is pain when getting out of bed first thing in the morning ('post-static dyskinesia')

A number of disease processes can uncommonly cause heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and gout.

Stress fractures, which is an abnormal reaction of bone to stress can occur in those that are very active (eg athletes) or have weaker bones (eg osteoporosis) Pain at the back of the heel could be due to a number of problems - there could be a bursitis at the back of the heel bone (sometimes called 'Haglund's); there could be problems with the insertion of the achilles tendon, such as tendonitis or calcification.

A 'stone' bruise is sometimes considered to be a cause of heel pain - its is simply a bruise of the bone.

Another cause of heel pain is problems in the calf muscles that refer pain to the heel (myofascial trigger points) or pain referred from the lower back via the nerves from the back to the heel.

Heel pain in children is usually due to severs disease or calcaneal apophysitis.

Exploring The Initial Conservative Treatment Options

Physical medicine modalities are well known for their benefits and they have been consistently applied in early treatment of plantar fasciitis. Typically, the direct application of ice, ice baths or contrast soaking aid in the local reduction of inflammation and temporarily augment pain management. Electric stimulation may only provide indirect reduction of interstitial inflammation of the plantar fascia. Ultrasound therapy, hot pack systems and deep tissue massage help eliminate inflammation and aid in restoring plantar fascia tensegrity. Generally, these modalities are considered to be valuable adjuncts to a well-organised treatment plan.

Various programs of stretching, range of motion and therapeutic exercises can help re-establish foot function and improve tolerance to load. When it is done appropriately, stretching can serve as an important adjunct to the resumption of the plantar fascia’s ability to tolerate eccentric loading forces that typically occur during stance and gait.

Night splinting has proven to be an effective tool in managing persistent plantar fasciitis.

Antiinflammatory modalities, such as ice and ice baths, are often the first line of treatment. Oral NSAIDs have been a mainstay of treatment. While they effectively relieve symptoms, be aware that they frequently fail to promote sustained relief. When inflammation is severe or fails to respond to initial efforts, one may consider corticosteroid injection(s). However, keep in mind that corticosteroid injections impose the risk of aponeurosis rupture secondary to focal collagen tissue necrosis and can result in focal heel fat pad atrophy.

What About Shoes, Orthoses And Splinting?

Shoes, orthoses, splinting and/or immobilization form the cornerstone for successful functional management of plantar fasciitis.When you take the overuse nature of plantar fasciitis into account and attempt to re-establish the windlass mechanism of the foot, there is an enhanced potential for success.

Unfortunately, too little attention has been directed to appropriately managing the shoes worn during treatment for plantar fasciitis. Emphasising motion control and stability type athletic shoes (that provide a firm heel cup, instep rigidity, longitudinal integrity and a well-integrated shoe upper) can help decrease excess eccentric tissue strain.

The shoe also serves as a vital and functional link between an orthotic and the foot. Orthoses have long been considered to be a reliable method for treating plantar fasciitis. Considerable debate has been waged over the benefits of over-the-counter (OTC), prefabricated and prescription foot and/or ankle orthoses.

Heel cushions, heel cups and cushioning pads appear to provide immediate pain relief for many people who have plantar fasciitis.This relief is frequently short-lived and requires other treatment modalities for success.Neutral position taping and strapping of the foot provides temporary symptomatic relief of pain caused by plantar fasciitis. Although the functional benefits are temporary and likely do not last longer than 10 minutes with exercise, the soft tissue compression and symptomatic relief afforded by the strapping can last for nearly a week.

Please consult your Podiatrist.