More than 20 percent of patients visit foot specialists because of heel pain, and approximately one-third of all patients I see come because of this problem. Over 50 percent of Americans will experience heel pain during their lifetime. The most common form of heel pain is known as plantar fasciitis or "heel spur syndrome." The plantar fascia is a thick ligament on the bottom of your foot spanning from your heel to the base of your toes. It supports the arch and several muscles under the bones that support the foot. Overtime, most people will develop some degree of calcification within these muscles on the bottom of their heel called a "spur."
Plantar fasciitis can come from a number of underlying causes. Finding the precise reason for the heel pain is sometimes difficult. As you can imagine, when the foot is on the ground a tremendous amount of force (the full weight of the body) is concentrated on the plantar fascia. This force stretches the plantar fascia as the arch of the foot tries to flatten from the weight of your body. This is just how the string on a bow is stretched by the force of the bow trying to straighten. This leads to stress on the plantar fascia where it attaches to the heel bone. Small tears of the fascia can result. These tears are normally repaired by the body. As this process of injury and repair repeats itself over and over again, a bone spur (a pointed outgrowth of the bone) sometimes forms as the body's response to try to firmly attach the fascia to the heelbone. This appears on an X-ray of the foot as a heel spur. Bone spurs occur along with plantar fasciitis but they are not the cause of the problem. As we age, the very important fat pad that makes up the fleshy portion of the heel becomes thinner and degenerates (starts to break down). This can lead to inadequate padding on the heel. With less of a protective pad on the heel, there is a reduced amount of shock absorption. These are additional factors that might lead to plantar fasciitis. Some physicians feel that the small nerves that travel under the plantar fascia on their way to the forefoot become irritated and may contribute to the pain. But some studies have been able to show that pain from compression of the nerve is different from plantar fasciitis pain. In many cases, the actual source of the painful heel may not be defined clearly. Other factors that may contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis include obesity, trauma, weak plantar flexor muscles, excessive foot pronation (flat foot) or other alignment problems in the foot and or ankle, and poor footwear.
Both heel pain and heel spurs are frequently associated with an inflammation of the long band of tissue that connects the heel and the ball of the foot. The inflammation of this arch area is called plantar fasciitis. The inflammation maybe aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support and by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an athletic lifestyle. Achilles Tendinopathy, Pain and inflammation of the tendon at the back of the heel that connects the calf muscle to the foot. Sever?s, Often found in children between the ages of 8 - 13 years and is an inflammation of the calcaneal epiphyseal plate (growth plate) in the back of the heel. Bursitis, An inflamed bursa is a small irritated sack of fluid at the back of the heel. Other types of heel pain include soft tissue growths, Haglunds deformity (bone enlargement at the back of the heel), bruises or stress fractures and possible nerve entrapment.
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
Heel pain often goes away on its own with home care. For heel pain that isn't severe, try the following. Rest. If possible, avoid activities that put stress on your heels, such as running, standing for long periods or walking on hard surfaces. Ice. Place an ice pack or bag of frozen peas on your heel for 15 to 20 minutes three times a day. New shoes. Be sure your shoes fit properly and provide plenty of support. If you're an athlete, choose shoes appropriate for your sport and replace them regularly. Foot supports. Heel cups or wedges that you buy in the drugstore often provide relief. Custom-made orthotics usually aren't needed for heel problems. Over-the-counter pain medications. Aspirin or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) can reduce inflammation and pain.
Surgery to correct heel pain is generally only recommended if orthotic treatment has failed. There are some exceptions to this course of treatment and it is up to you and your doctor to determine the most appropriate course of treatment. Following surgical treatment to correct heel pain the patient will generally have to continue the use of orthotics. The surgery does not correct the cause of the heel pain. The surgery will eliminate the pain but the process that caused the pain will continue without the use of orthotics. If orthotics have been prescribed prior to surgery they generally do not have to be remade.
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.