Heel Pain is one of the most common conditions treated by podiatrists. It is often a message from the body that something is in need of medical attention. Pain that occurs right after an injury or early in an illness may play a protective role, often warning us about the damage we have suffered. The greatest incidence of heel pain is seen in middle-aged men and women. It is also seen in those who take part in regular sporting activities and those significantly overweight and on their feet a lot. Heel pain can also occur in children, usually between 8 and 13, as they become increasingly active in sporting activities.
There are several causes of heel pain. By far the most common cause in adults is a condition commonly known as plantar fasciitis. Other names occasionally used for the same condition are heel spurs, and policeman?s heel. Plantar means bottom of the foot, and fascia is the fibrous tissues that helps tether the heel bone (calcaneus) to the heads of the metatarsal bones found at the base of your toes The meaning of ?itis? is inflammation. However, inflammation does not have a large part to play in the pathology, it is more degenerative (wear & tear) so the preferred title is plantar fasciosis or plantar aponeurotic fasciosis. For simplicity sake, we will refer to this common cause of heel pain as plantar fasciitis in this manual.
Sever?s Disease. This is a condition that occurs in 10 – 15 year old children, predominantly boys and is associated with running and repetitive jumping. It is also associated with flimsy footwear that kids may wear. It occurs when the Achilles tendon continually pulls on the apophysis of the calcaneum and does not allow for it to fuse with the body of the calcaneum. Calcaneal enthesopathy. This occurs when there is repetitive trauma at the attachment of the Achilles tendon, resulting in a spur from the calcaneum up into the Achilles tendon. It is usually visualized on x-ray and may be tender if there is an associated bursitis or tendonitis. “Pump Bump”. Also known as Haglund?s Deformity, this is a bony enlargement that exists on the back of the heel – usually related to a congenital abnormality or with chronic bursitis, causing a thickening. There may have already been trauma or pressure from footwear. Treatment is usually protection of the bump and correct footwear. Associated with a symmetrical swelling at the base of the Achilles tendon. It is usually related to repetitive trauma or inappropriate footwear. It is often red and hot in the early stages. Treatment is usually to correct the footwear, provide padding and treat the local symptoms e.g. ice, rest, physiotherapy and cortisone injection. Fat Pad Syndrome. Direct contact with the base of the heel may result in trauma to the fat pad. Related to obesity, training on hard surfaces, uneven grounds, poor shoes especially overlarge shoes which can cause shearing forces on the heel. These conditions are renowned for taking a long time to recover – usually many months.
The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is generally made during the history and physical examination. There are several conditions that can cause heel pain, and plantar fasciitis must be distinguished from these conditions. Pain can be referred to the heel and foot from other areas of the body such as the low back, hip, knee, and/or ankle. Special tests to challenge these areas are performed to help confirm the problem is truly coming from the plantar fascia. An X-ray may be ordered to rule out a stress fracture of the heel bone and to see if a bone spur is present that is large enough to cause problems. Other helpful imaging studies include bone scans, MRI, and ultrasound. Ultrasonographic exam may be favored as it is quick, less expensive, and does not expose you to radiation. Laboratory investigation may be necessary in some cases to rule out a systemic illness causing the heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Reiter’s syndrome, or ankylosing spondylitis. These are diseases that affect the entire body but may show up at first as pain in the heel.
Non Surgical Treatment
Home care, in cases that are not severe, home care is probably enough to get rid of heel pain. Rest, avoid running or standing for long periods, or walking on hard surfaces. Avoid activities that may stress the heels. Ice, place an ice-pack on the affected area for about 15 minutes. Do not place bare ice directly onto skin. Footwear. proper-fitting shoes that provide good support are crucial. Athletes should be particularly fussy about the shoes they use when practicing or competing – sports shoes need to be replaced at specific intervals (ask your trainer). Foot supports, wedges and heel cups can help relieve symptoms.
If treatment hasn’t worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery – where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.
Prevention of heel pain involves reducing the stress on that part of the body. Tips include. Barefeet, when on hard ground make sure you are wearing shoes. Bodyweight, if you are overweight there is more stress on the heels when you walk or run. Try to lose weight. Footwear, footwear that has material which can absorb some of the stress placed on the heel may help protect it. Examples include heel pads. Make sure your shoes fit properly and do not have worn down heels or soles. If you notice a link between a particular pair of shoes and heel pain, stop wearing them. Rest, if you are especially susceptible to heel pain, try to spend more time resting and less time on your feet. It is best to discuss this point with a specialized health care professional. Sports, warm up properly before engaging in activities that may place lots of stress on the heels. Make sure you have proper sports shoes for your task.