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Understanding Heel Discomfort

Overview

Pain In The Heel

Heel pain is a very challenging problem as it can be local and/or referred. It has been more prevalent recently due to the hard grounds on which people have to run. Commonly people will present with heel pain, thrusting an x-ray at you, and being adamant that the problem is a ?heel spur?. This is defined as a small bone that grows from the heel, directing forwards towards the toes. This may be as small as 1 mm to anything as large as 8 - 10 mm. Most of the time, this is an incidental finding, as there many heels that are pain free that have heel spurs evident on x-rays. The spur is thought to be a result of traction of the plantar fascia on the heel. In some cases, the spur may contribute to the symptoms, but is not the main cause. This should be explained very carefully to the patient, as the focus on the spur may limit the recovery, as the patient may believe that the only way to eliminate the pain is to remove the spur.

Causes

The two major causes of heel pain are plantar fasciitis and achilles tendinitis. The easiest way to figure out which one is causing your pain is by location. Generally speaking, if the pain is under your heel bone it is likely plantar fasciitis. If the pain is found at the back of the heel, in the achilles or toward the base of the achilles (the long cord that extends from your calf to your heel bone), then it is likely achilles tendinitis.

Symptoms

Depending on the specific form of heel pain, symptoms may vary. Pain stemming from plantar fasciitis or heel spurs is particularly acute following periods of rest, whether it is after getting out of bed in the morning, or getting up after a long period of sitting. In many cases, pain subsides during activity as injured tissue adjusts to damage, but can return again with prolonged activity or when excessive pressure is applied to the affected area. Extended periods of activity and/or strain of the foot can increase pain and inflammation in the foot. In addition to pain, heel conditions can also generate swelling, bruising, and redness. The foot may also be hot to the touch, experience tingling, or numbness depending on the condition.

Diagnosis

Depending on the condition, the cause of heel pain is diagnosed using a number of tests, including medical history, physical examination, including examination of joints and muscles of the foot and leg, X-rays.

Non Surgical Treatment

Calf stretch, Heel cups/lifts, ice, night splint, physical therapy, activity modification. Sometimes immobilization in a cast or boot may be necessary. Topical creams, such as Voltaren or Ketoprofen, have been found to have some benefit. In some cases, the tendon may become degenerative (tendonosis). In these instances, treatment is more difficult. Prolonged periods of immobilization and physical therapy may be required. In resistant cases, surgical debridement of the tendon may be necessary. Rarely does a symptomatic achilles tendon rupture. Most achilles ruptures are not associated with prodromal symptoms. Achilles ruptures are more common in men and "weekend warriors," ie middle aged men who like to play sports (soccer, softball, basketball) on the weekends.

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.

heel pain treatment

Prevention

Foot Pain

A variety of steps can be taken to avoid heel pain and accompanying afflictions. Wear shoes that fit well-front, back, and sides-and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid shanks, and supportive heel counters. Wear the proper shoes for each activity. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm up and do stretching exercises before and after running. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. Don't underestimate your body's need for rest and good nutrition. If obese, lose weight.
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