Understanding Heel Soreness

Overview

Pain In The Heel

Heel pain accounts for one of the most common types of pain felt in the foot. Pain in the heel of the foot can be caused as a result of exercise, daily work routines or recreational activities. Some type of repetitive stress on the foot is often at the root of Heel Pain. The largest bone in the foot is the calcaneus, or heel bone. When we walk, the heel bone is usually the first part of the foot that hits the ground and is responsible for supporting much of the body's weight. This makes the heel of the foot prone to injury.

Causes

Some of the many causes of heel pain can include abnormal walking style (gait), such as rolling the feet inwards. Obesity. Ill-fitting shoes. Standing, running or jumping on hard surfaces. Injury to the heel, such as stress fractures. Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa, bursae are small sacs that contain fluid to lubricate moving parts, such as joints and muscles). Neuroma (nerve enlargement). Certain disorders, including diabetes and arthritis.

Symptoms

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.

Diagnosis

To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.

Non Surgical Treatment

There are many treatments for fasciitis. The most common initial treatment provided by the family doctor are anti-inflammatory medications. They may take the edge off the pain, but they don't often resolve the condition fully. Steroid injections, which deliver the medication directly to the most painful area, are usually more effective. Rest, ice, weight loss, taping, strapping, immobilization, physiotherapy, massage, stretching, heel cushions, acupuncture, night splints and extra-corporeal shock wave therapy all help some patients. Many patients, however, have a biomechanical cause such as excessively pronated feet to their complaint, and this may mean many of the treatments listed above will only provide temporary relief of fasciitis symptoms. When you stop the treatment, the pain often returns. This is why many cases of fasciitis respond well to orthoses, custom-made inserts that control the mechanical cause of the complaint. If you're considering orthoses, it's very important to have a podiatrist specializing in the field to examine you. There are many biomechanical factors to consider when assessing the need for literally dozens of types of devices available, so you need to have an expert to properly assess you. (Unfortunately, as is the case in many jurisdictions, there is no minimum standard of training required in British Columbia to make orthoses, and there are many fly-by-night operations around that employ salesmen with little, if any, training in understanding anatomy or foot function. The emphasis with these groups is on selling you some sort of device, rather than providing proper assessment, treatment and follow-up.

Surgical Treatment

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST) is a fairly new type of non-invasive treatment. Non-invasive means it does not involve making cuts into your body. EST involves using a device to deliver high-energy soundwaves into your heel. The soundwaves can sometimes cause pain, so a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your heel. It is claimed that EST works in two ways. It is thought to have a "numbing" effect on the nerves that transmit pain signals to your brain, help stimulate and speed up the healing process. However, these claims have not yet been definitively proven. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance about the use of EST for treating plantar fasciitis. NICE states there are no concerns over the safety of EST, but there are uncertainties about how effective the procedure is for treating heel pain. Some studies have reported that EST is more effective than surgery and other non-surgical treatments, while other studies found the procedure to be no better than a placebo (sham treatment).

Prevention

Painful Heel

You should always wear footwear that is appropriate for your environment and day-to-day activities. Wearing high heels when you go out in the evening is unlikely to be harmful. However, wearing them all week at work may damage your feet, particularly if your job involves a lot of walking or standing. Ideally, you should wear shoes with laces and a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes with no heels. Do not walk barefoot on hard ground, particularly while on holiday. Many cases of heel pain occur when a person protects their feet for 50 weeks of the year and then suddenly walks barefoot while on holiday. Their feet are not accustomed to the extra pressure, which causes heel pain. If you do a physical activity, such as running or another form of exercise that places additional strain on your feet, you should replace your sports shoes regularly. Most experts recommend that sports shoes should be replaced after you have done about 500 miles in them. It is also a good idea to always stretch after exercising, and to make strength and flexibility training a part of your regular exercise routine.

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