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Heel Aches

Overview

Feet Pain

The heel is a cushion of fatty tissue that protects the structures of the foot, including the heel bone, muscles and ligaments. Heel pain is a common foot complaint. Complications include plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Sever's disease is a common cause of heel pain in children. A podiatrist can help diagnose and treat heel pain. The heel is a padded cushion of fatty tissue around the heel bone (the calcaneus) that holds its shape despite the pressure of body weight and movement. It serves to protect the structures of the foot, including the calcaneus, muscles and ligaments. Heel pain is a very common foot complaint. Anyone can suffer from heel pain, but certain groups seem to be at increased risk, including, middle-aged men and women, physically active people, people who are overweight or obese, people who are on their feet for long periods of time, children aged between eight and 13 years (particularly boys) and women during pregnancy.

Causes

There is no one cause of heel pain. Whole text books have been written on Disorders of the Heel. Some of the types of problems that can be seen in the heel include Heel spurs, these are small bony spurs that often develop on the bottom of the heel. They do not really cause any problems. It is only mentioned here as it is a common myth that they are a problem - almost always the pain associated with heel spurs is really plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain and is due to a strain of the long ligament along the bottom of the foot. The most symptom is pain when getting out of bed first thing in the morning ('post-static dyskinesia') A number of disease processes can uncommonly cause heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and gout. Stress fractures, which is an abnormal reaction of bone to stress can occur in those that are very active (eg athletes) or have weaker bones (eg osteoporosis) Pain at the back of the heel could be due to a number of problems, there could be a bursitis at the back of the heel bone (sometimes called 'Haglund's) there could be problems with the insertion of the achilles tendon, such as tendonitis or calcification. A 'stone' bruise is sometimes considered to be a cause of heel pain, its is simply a bruise of the bone. Another cause of heel pain is problems in the calf muscles that refer pain to the heel (myofascial trigger points) or pain referred from the lower back via the nerves from the back to the heel. Heel pain in children is usually due to severs disease or calcaneal apophysitis.

Symptoms

Usually worse with the first few steps in the morning or at the initial point of activity. The latter usually gets better with continued activity (squeaky hinge analogy). Walking, running, sprinting, hill running and jumping will increase the pain. Often, the natural response is to walk on the outside of the foot - in supination - to lessen the stress on the plantar fascia - resulting in new problems.

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

Initially, treatment will consist of adding support to the foot, including better shoes and an over-the-counter arch supports and/or insoles; resting from the sport or activity that aggravates the problem; stretching the calf and arch muscles; taking anti-inflammatory; and using ice and massage to reduce inflammation. You can ice and message your muscles simultaneously by freezing a water bottle filled with water and using it to massage your foot by rolling it underneath your foot for five to 10 minutes at least two times per day. It is not unusual for symptoms of plantar fasciitis to persist for six to 12 months despite treatment.

Surgical Treatment

It is rare to need an operation for heel pain. It would only be offered if all simpler treatments have failed and, in particular, you are a reasonable weight for your height and the stresses on your heel cannot be improved by modifying your activities or footwear. The aim of an operation is to release part of the plantar fascia from the heel bone and reduce the tension in it. Many surgeons would also explore and free the small nerves on the inner side of your heel as these are sometimes trapped by bands of tight tissue. This sort of surgery can be done through a cut about 3cm long on the inner side of your heel. Recently there has been a lot of interest in doing the operation by keyhole surgery, but this has not yet been proven to be effective and safe. Most people who have an operation are better afterwards, but it can take months to get the benefit of the operation and the wound can take a while to heal fully. Tingling or numbness on the side of the heel may occur after operation.

heel cups for heel pain

Prevention

Heel Pain

Preventing heel pain is crucial to avoid pain that can easily interrupt a busy or active lifestyle. Athletes can prevent damage by stretching the foot and calf both before and after an exercise routine. The plantar fascia ligament can be stretched by using a tennis ball or water bottle and rolling it across the bottom of the foot. With regular stretching, the stretching and flexibility of tissue through the foot can be significantly improved, helping to prevent damage and injury. Athletes should also ease into new or more difficult routines, allowing the plantar fascia and other tissue to become accustomed to the added stress and difficulty. Running up hills is also common among athletes in their routines. However, this activity should be reduced since it places an increased amount of stress on the plantar fascia and increases the risk of plantar fasciitis. Maintaining a healthy weight is also an essential heel pain prevention technique. Obesity brings additional weight and stress on the heel of the foot, causing damage and pain in the heel as well as in other areas of the foot.
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