Heel pain is one of the most common conditions to affect the foot. It is usually felt as an intense pain when the affected heel is used. The pain is usually worse when you get out of bed in the morning or after a long period of activity. In most cases, only one heel is affected. After walking, the pain usually improves. However, it is common for it to be painful when you first take a step after a period of rest. The pain often worsens by the end of the day. Most cases of Heel Pain are caused by damage and thickening of the plantar fascia. Sometimes, the surrounding tissue and the heel bone also become inflamed (swollen).
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.
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.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as have you had this type of heel pain before? When did your pain begin? Do you have pain upon your first steps in the morning or after your first steps after rest? Is the pain dull and aching or sharp and stabbing? Is it worse after exercise? Is it worse when standing? Did you fall or twist your ankle recently? Are you a runner? If so, how far and how often do you run? Do you walk or stand for long periods of time? What kind of shoes do you wear? Do you have any other symptoms? Your doctor may order a foot x-ray. You may need to see a physical therapist to learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your foot. Your doctor may recommend a night splint to help stretch your foot. Surgery may be recommended in some cases.
Non Surgical Treatment
The following steps may help relieve your heel pain. Use crutches to take weight off your feet. Rest as much as possible for at least a week. Apply ice to the painful area. Do this at least twice a day for 10 to 15 minutes, more often in the first couple of days. Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain. Wear proper-fitting shoes. Use a heel cup, felt pads in the heel area, or shoe insert. Wear night splints. Your doctor may recommend other treatments, depending on the cause of your heel pain.
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).
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.
Achilles tendonitis is a relatively common condition characterized by tissue damage and pain in the Achilles tendon. The muscle group at the back of the lower leg is commonly called the calf. The calf comprises of 2 major muscles, one of which originates from above the knee joint (gastrocnemius), the other of which originates from below the knee joint (soleus). Both of these muscles insert into the heel bone via the Achilles tendon. During contraction of the calf, tension is placed through the Achilles tendon. When this tension is excessive due to too much repetition or high force, damage to the tendon occurs. Achilles tendonitis is a condition whereby there is damage to the tendon with subsequent degeneration and inflammation. This may occur traumatically due to a high force going through the tendon beyond what it can withstand or, more commonly, due to gradual wear and tear associated with overuse.
Achilles tendinitis can be caused by overly tight calf muscles, excessive running up hill or down hill, a sudden increase in the amount of exercise, e.g. running for a longer distance, wearing ill-fitting running shoes, such as those with soles that are too stiff, or wearing high heels regularly, or changing between high heels all day and flat shoes or low running shoes in the evening. Overuse is common in walkers, runners, dancers and other athletes who do a lot of jumping and sudden starts/stops, which exert a lot of stress on the Achilles tendon. Continuing to stress an inflamed Achilles tendon can cause rupture of the tendon – it snaps, often with a distinctive popping sound. A ruptured Achilles tendon makes it virtually impossible to walk. An Achilles tendon rupture is usually treated by surgical repair or wearing a cast.
Common symptoms of Achilles tendinitis include, pain and stiffness along the Achilles tendon in the morning, pain along the tendon or back of the heel that worsens with activity, Severe pain the day after exercising, thickening of the tendon, bone spur (insertional tendinitis) swelling that is present all the time and gets worse throughout the day with activity, If you have experienced a sudden “pop” in the back of your calf or heel, you may have ruptured (torn) your Achilles tendon. See your doctor immediately if you think you may have torn your tendon.
During the physical exam, your doctor will gently press on the affected area to determine the location of pain, tenderness or swelling. He or she will also evaluate the flexibility, alignment, range of motion and reflexes of your foot and ankle. Your doctor may order one or more of the following tests to assess your condition, X-rays. While X-rays can’t visualize soft tissues such as tendons, they may help rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms. Ultrasound. This device uses sound waves to visualize soft tissues like tendons. Ultrasound can also produce real-time images of the Achilles tendon in motion. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Using radio waves and a very strong magnet, MRI machines can produce very detailed images of the Achilles tendon.
Treatment options might include anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen which might help with acute achilles inflammation and pain but has not been proven to be beneficial long term and may even inhibit healing. If the injury is severe then a plaster cast might be applied to immobilize the tendon. Use of electrotherapy such as ultrasound treatment, laser therapy and extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) may be beneficial in reducing pain and encouraging healing. Applying sports massage techniques can mobilze the tissues or the tendon itself and help stretch the calf muscles. Some might give a steroid injection however an injection directly into the tendon is not recommended. Some specialists believe this can increase the risk of a total rupture of the tendon in future. One of the most effective forms of treatment for achilles tendonitis is a full rehabilitation program consisting of eccentric strengthening exercises. There is now considerable evidence suggesting the effectiveness of slow eccentric rehabilitation exercises for curing achilles tendon pain.
Most people will improve with simple measures or physiotherapy. A small number continue to have major problems which interfere with their lifestyle. In this situation an operation may be considered. If an operation is being considered, the surgeon will interview you and examine you again and may want you to have further treatment before making a decision about an operation. Before undergoing Achilles tendonitis surgery, London based patients, and those who can travel, will be advised to undergo a scan, which will reveal whether there is a problem in the tendon which can be corrected by surgery. Patients will also have the opportunity to ask any questions and raise any concerns that they may have, so that they can proceed with the treatment with peace of mind.
Achilles tendinitis cannot always be prevented but the following tips will help you reduce your risk. If you are new to a sport, gradually ramp up your activity level to your desired intensity and duration. If you experience pain while exercising, stop. Avoid strenuous activity that puts excessive stress on your Achilles tendon. If you have a demanding workout planned, warm up slowly and thoroughly. Always exercise in shoes that are in good condition and appropriate for your activity or sport. Be sure to stretch your calf muscles and Achilles tendon before and after working out. If you suffer from Achilles tendinitis make sure you treat it properly and promptly. If self-care techniques don?t work, don?t delay. Book a consultation with a foot care expert or you may find yourself sidelined from your favourite sports and activities.