What Exactly Triggers Painful Heel
Foot pain affects nearly all people at one time or another. It can also lead to other musculoskeletal problems such as ankle, knee and back pain (Hill et al., 2008). This pain negatively affects one’s quality of life and ability to enjoy workouts and/or maintain a regular program of exercise. One of the most common sources of foot pain is plantar fasciitis, a condition where the connective tissue on the underside of the foot becomes irritated and painful as a result of an injury, overuse or misuse. The plantar fascia is a system of connective tissue that runs from your heel to just behind your toes. During weightbearing activities, such as walking or running, your body weight is transferred onto your foot from your heel to your toes (which results in your toes moving away from your heel). This spreading out of the foot places tension on the plantar fascia because it connects those two parts. If the tension on this structure is too great or is not dispersed evenly, the plantar fascia can develop microtears and become irritated and painful, resulting in a condition called plantar fasciitis.
The plantar fascia is designed to absorb the high stresses and strains we place on our feet. But, sometimes, too much pressure damages or tears the tissues. The body’s natural response to injury is inflammation, which results in the heel pain and stiffness of plantar fasciitis.
A very common complaint of plantar fasciitis is pain in the bottom of the heel. Plantar fasciitis is usually worse in the morning and may improve throughout the day. By the end of the day the pain may be replaced by a dull aching that improves with rest. Most people suffering from plantar fasciitis also complain of increased heel pain after walking for a long period of time.
After you describe your symptoms and discuss your concerns, your doctor will examine your foot. Your doctor will look for these signs. A high arch, an area of maximum tenderness on the bottom of your foot, just in front of your heel bone. Pain that gets worse when you flex your foot and the doctor pushes on the plantar fascia. The pain improves when you point your toes down. Limited “up” motion of your ankle. Your doctor may order imaging tests to help make sure your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis and not another problem. X-rays provide clear images of bones. They are useful in ruling out other causes of heel pain, such as fractures or arthritis. Heel spurs can be seen on an x-ray. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, are not routinely used to diagnose plantar fasciitis. They are rarely ordered. An MRI scan may be used if the heel pain is not relieved by initial treatment methods.
Non Surgical Treatment
Night splints usually are designed to keep a person’s ankle in a neutral position overnight. Most individuals naturally sleep with the feet plantar-flexed, a position that causes the plantar fascia to be in a foreshortened position. A night dorsiflexion splint allows passive stretching of the calf and the plantar fascia during sleep. Theoretically, it also allows any healing to take place while the plantar fascia is in an elongated position, thus creating less tension with the first step in the morning. A night splint can be molded from plaster or fiberglass casting material or may be a prefabricated, commercially produced plastic brace. Several studies have shown that use of night splints has resulted in improvement in approximately 80 percent of patients using night splints. Other studies found that night splints were especially useful in individuals who had symptoms of plantar fasciitis that had been present for more than 12 months. Night splints were cited as the best treatment by approximately one third of the patients with plantar fasciitis who tried them. Disadvantages of night splints include mild discomfort, which may interfere with the patient’s or a bed partner’s ability to sleep.
Surgery may be considered in very difficult cases. Surgery is usually only advised if your pain has not eased after 12 months despite other treatments. The operation involves separating your plantar fascia from where it connects to the bone; this is called a plantar fascia release. It may also involve removal of a spur on the calcaneum if one is present. Surgery is not always successful. It can cause complications in some people so it should be considered as a last resort. Complications may include infection, increased pain, injury to nearby nerves, or rupture of the plantar fascia.
Stretching exercises for the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are recommend to relieve pain and aid in the healing process. Sometimes application of athletic tape is recommended. In moderate or severe cases of plantar fasciitis, your doctor may recommend you wearing a night splint, which will stretch the arch of your foot and calf while you sleep. This helps to lengthen the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia for symptom relief. Depending on the severity of your plantar fasciitis, your physician may prescribe a store-bought orthotic (arch support) or custom-fitted orthotic to help distribute your foot pressure more evenly.