All The Things It Is Best To Know About Heel Discomfort

Overview

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Heel pain is generally the result of faulty biomechanics (walking gait abnormalities) that place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues that attach to it. The stress may also result from injury, or a bruise incurred while walking, running, or jumping on hard surfaces; wearing poorly constructed footwear; or being overweight. The heel bone is the largest of the 26 bones in the human foot, which also has 33 joints and a network of more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. Like all bones, it is subject to outside influences that can affect its integrity and its ability to keep us on our feet. Heel pain, sometimes disabling, can occur in the front, back, or bottom of the heel.

Causes

A sharp stabbing pain, like a nail going into the bottom of the heel when first stepping on the foot after getting out of bed or after sitting for period of time, is the most common description for plantar fasciitis or heel spur syndrome. Typically the pain eases off as the day goes on but it may not go away completely. A thick ligament that attaches to the bottom of the heel and runs the length of the foot to the toes can become inflamed and swollen at the attachment site. This tends to be an overuse type of injury where poor foot structure is involved; also, wearing of shoe gear that lacks adequate support (ie: worn out shoes, boots and flip-flops) and prolonged standing or walking are often implicated. A throbbing pain that gets worse as the day goes on and can be worse at night when laying in bed is most often associated with an irritated or entrapped nerve on the inside of the ankle or heel. This is similar to carpel tunnel syndrome in the wrist and hand. Approximately 7 / 10 patients with heel pain have a component of nerve entrapment as the cause of their heel pain. This is also one of the most common causes of chronic heel pain because it is often missed as a diagnosis. When nerve entrapment is considered to be a cause, painless neurosensory testing is performed with the Pressure Specified Sensory Device? (PSSD) at The Foot & Ankle Center, PC to determine the extent of compression. A less common cause of heel pain but a stress fracture is often considered in athletes, such as long distance runners, who have heel pain. Posterior Heel Pain (Retrocalcaneal) This is pain in the back of the heel that flares up when first starting an activity. It is often associated with a large bump that can be irritated by shoes. The Achilles tendon attaches to the back of the heel and, like on the bottom, this attachment site can often become inflamed; a spur may or may not be present. Another painful area is a sac of fluid (bursa) that sits between the tendon and bone to act as a cushion for the tendon. This bursa can become inflamed often leading to significant pain called retrocalcaneal bursitis.

Symptoms

Symptoms may also include swelling that is quite tender to the touch. Standing, walking and constrictive shoe wear typically aggravate symptoms. Many patients with this problem are middle-aged and may be slightly overweight. Another group of patients who suffer from this condition are young, active runners.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of heel pain and heel spurs is made by a through history of the course of the condition and by physical exam. Weight bearing x-rays are useful in determining if a heel spur is present and to rule out rare causes of heel pain such as a stress fracture of the heel bone, the presence of bone tumors or evidence of soft tissue damage caused by certain connective tissue disorders.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatments to add to your stretching program include wearing good-quality shoes, icing the painful area, and massaging the arch. Do not walk barefoot; walk in shoes with good heel and arch supports such as high-quality walking or running shoes. Keep a pair of shoes next to your bed so you can put them on before taking your first step. Your doctor may recommend that you wear an additional arch support or a heel cup in the shoes. Icing your foot can help relieve pain. Rub a frozen bottle of water or an ice cup over the tender areas for five minutes two times each day. Massage your foot by rolling a tennis, golf ball, or baseball along your sole and heel. This friction massage can help break up adhesions and stretch the plantar fascia. Do this for five minutes two times each day. If you are a runner or just started a walking or running program, evaluate your training for errors such as warming up improperly, increasing mileage too quickly, running hills excessively, running on surfaces that are too hard, or wearing broken down shoes. Adjusting your training program can help relieve your pain. While recovering from heel pain, walk or jog in a pool or crosstrain by biking and swimming. These activities maintain your cardiovascular fitness without stressing your heel cord or plantar fascia. Heel pain takes time to go away. Be patient and remember that no treatment is a substitute for STRETCHING!

Surgical Treatment

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.

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Prevention

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Heel pain is commonly caused from shoes that do not fit properly. In addition, shoes need to have ample cushioning and support, particularly through the heel, ball of the foot, and arch. Shoes should also be replaced if they become too worn. One sure sign of wear and tear is overly worn areas of a shoe's insoles. If the heel or ball of the foot is particularly worn, damage could easily occur since the bottom of the foot is not getting the cushioning it needs.