What Is Heel Pain

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammatory process of the plantar fascia, a thick fibrous band of connective tissue originating on the bottom surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the five toes. Pain in the arch or heel often indicates inflammation of the long band of tissue under the foot (the plantar fascia). It can cause sharp pain and discomfort in either the mid arch region or at the inside heel, and less commonly the outside heel. It frequently causes pain upon rising from rest (especially first thing in the morning) and can progress to agony by the end of the day. Although plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of this pain, it must be skilfully differentially diagnosed from other conditions via a thorough history taking and physical examination.




Causes

Plantar Fasciitis is simply caused by overstretching of the plantar fascia ligament under the foot. So why is the ligament being overstretched? There are different factors, over-use, too much sports, running, walking or standing for long periods (e.g. because of your job) weight gain, our feet are designed to carry a 'normal' weight. Any excess weight places great pressure on the bones, nerves, muscles and ligaments in the feet, which sooner or later will have consequences. Even pregnancy (in the last 10 weeks) can cause foot problems! age, as we get older ligaments become tighter & shorter and msucles become weaker; the ideal circumstances for foot problems, unsupportive footwear, 'floppy' shoes with no support as well as thongs affect our walking pattern, walking barefoot, especially on hard surfaces like concrete or tiles, low arch and flat feet or over-pronation. An important contributing factor to Plantar Fasciitis is 'excess pronation' (or over-pronation). This is a condition whereby the feet roll over, the arches collapse and the foot elongates. This unnatural elongation puts excess strain on the ligaments, muscles and nerves in the foot. When the foot is not properly aligned, the bones unlock and cause the foot to roll inward. With every step taken your foot pronates and elongates, stretching the plantar fascia and causing inflammation and pain at the attachment of the plantar fascia into the heel bone. Re-alignment of the foot should therefore an important part of the treament regime.




Symptoms

The heel pain characteristic of plantar fasciitis is usually felt on the bottom of the heel and is most intense with the first steps of the day. Individuals with plantar fasciitis often have difficulty with dorsiflexion of the foot, an action in which the foot is brought toward the shin. This difficulty is usually due to tightness of the calf muscle or Achilles tendon, the latter of which is connected to the back of the plantar fascia. Most cases of plantar fasciitis resolve on their own with time and respond well to conservative methods of treatment.




Diagnosis

A physical exam performed in the office along with the diagnostic studies as an x-ray. An MRI may also be required to rule out a stress fracture, or a tear of the plantar fascia. These are conditions that do not normally respond to common plantar fasciitis treatment.




Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment of plantar fasciitis is sometimes a drawn out and frustrating process. A program of rehabilitation should be undertaken with the help of someone qualified and knowledgeable about the affliction. Typically, plantar fasciitis will require at least six weeks and up to six months of conservative care to be fully remedied. Should such efforts not provide relief to the athlete, more aggressive measures including surgery may be considered. The initial goals of physical therapy should be to increase the passive flexion of the foot and improve flexibility in the foot and ankle, eventually leading to a full return to normal function. Prolonged inactivity in vigorous sports is often the price to be paid for thorough recovery. Half measures can lead to a chronic condition, in some cases severely limiting athletic ability. As a large amount of time is spent in bed during sleeping hours, it is important to ensure that the sheets at the foot of the bed do not constrict the foot, leading to plantar flexion in which the foot is bent straight out with the toes pointing. This constricts and thereby shortens the gastroc complex, worsening the condition. A heating pad placed under the muscles of the calf for a few minutes prior to rising may help loosen tension, increase circulation in the lower leg and reduce pain. Also during sleep, a night splint may be used in order to hold the ankle joint in a neutral position. This will aid in the healing of the plantar fascia and ensure that the foot will not become flexed during the night.

Heel Discomfort




Surgical Treatment

Surgery is rarely used in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. However it may be recommended when conservative treatment has been tried for several months but does not bring adequate relief of symptoms. Surgery usually involves the partial release of the plantar fascia from the heel bone. In approximately 75% of cases symptoms are fully resolved within six months. In a small percentage of cases, symptoms may take up to 12 months to fully resolve.

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