Heel pain is most often caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition that is sometimes also called heel spur syndrome when a spur is present. Heel pain may also be due to other causes, such as a stress fracture, tendonitis, arthritis, nerve irritation, or, rarely, a cyst. Because there are several potential causes, it is important to have heel pain properly diagnosed. A foot and ankle surgeon is able to distinguish between all the possibilities and determine the underlying source of your heel pain. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that extends from the heel to the toes. In this condition, the fascia first becomes irritated and then inflamed, resulting in heel pain.
Patients with tight calf muscles will suffer with excessive pulling of the muscle group on the back of the heel. This in turn creates pulling of other structures that are attached to the heel, including the Plantar Fascia. When the pulling continues for long enough, then inflammation will develop and lead to Plantar Fasciitis. This causes Heel Pain. It is extremely common for patients who increase their level of activity to develop Plantar Fasciitis. Boot camp, running, zumba, recreational walking or other quick movement sports such as tennis or touch football are typical causes of Heel Pain. The sharp increase in exercise is too much for the foot to cope with and the stress on the Plantar Fascia causes inflammation. The Heel Pain that is caused by this inflammation is known as Plantar Fasciitis.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis are pain on the bottom of the heel, pain in the arch of the foot, pain that is usually worse upon arising, pain that increases over a period of months. People with plantar fasciitis often describe the pain as worse when they get up in the morning or after they’ve been sitting for long periods of time. After a few minutes of walking the pain decreases, because walking stretches the fascia. For some people the pain subsides but returns after spending long periods of time on their feet.
Your doctor will ask you about the kind of pain you’re having, when it occurs and how long you’ve had it. If you have pain in your heel when you stand up for the first time in the morning, you may have plantar fasciitis. Most people with plantar fasciitis say the pain is like a knife or a pin sticking into the bottom of the foot. After you’ve been standing for a while, the pain becomes more like a dull ache. If you sit down for any length of time, the sharp pain will come back when you stand up again.
Non Surgical Treatment
A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to help reduce pain and inflammation. Electrotherapy such as ultrasound or laser may also help with symptoms. An X-ray may be taken to see if there is any bone growth or calcification, known as a heel spur but this is not necessarily a cause of pain. Deep tissue sports massage techniques can reduce the tension in and stretch the plantar fascia and the calf muscles. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy has been known to be successful and a corticosteroid injection is also an option.
Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.
Stretching exercises for the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are recommend to relieve pain and aid in the healing process. Sometimes application of athletic tape is recommended. In moderate or severe cases of plantar fasciitis, your doctor may recommend you wearing a night splint, which will stretch the arch of your foot and calf while you sleep. This helps to lengthen the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia for symptom relief. Depending on the severity of your plantar fasciitis, your physician may prescribe a store-bought orthotic (arch support) or custom-fitted orthotic to help distribute your foot pressure more evenly.