Heel pain is a common foot condition. It’s usually felt as an intense pain when using the affected heel. Heel pain usually builds up gradually and gets worse over time. The pain is often severe and occurs when you place weight on the heel. In most cases, only one heel is affected, although estimates suggest that around a third of people have pain in both heels. The pain is usually worse first thing in the morning, or when you first take a step after a period of inactivity. Walking usually improves the pain, but it often gets worse again after walking or standing for a long time. Some people may limp or develop an abnormal walking style as they try to avoid placing weight on the affected heel.
When the foot moves, the plantar fascia stretches and contracts. Plantar fasciitis is caused by the repetitive overstretching of the plantar fascia. If the tension on the plantar fascia is too great, this overstretching causes small tears in the plantar fascia. This in turn causes the plantar fascia to become inflamed and painful. Factors that contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis include having very high arches or flat feet, gender, while anyone can develop plantar fasciitis, it tends to occur more commonly in women, exercises such as running, walking and dancing, particularly if the calf muscles are tight. Activities or occupations that involve walking or standing for long periods of time, particularly on hard surfaces, wearing high heeled shoes or shoes that do not offer adequate arch support and cushioning, being overweight, additional weight increases the tension on the plantar fascia, poor biomechanics, extra tension is placed on the plantar fascia if weight is not spread evenly when standing, walking or running. Some cases of plantar fasciitis may be linked to underlying diseases that cause arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis.
When plantar fasciitis occurs, the pain is typically sharp and usually unilateral (70% of cases).Heel pain worsens by bearing weight on the heel after long periods of rest. Individuals with plantar fasciitis often report their symptoms are most intense during their first steps after getting out of bed or after prolonged periods of sitting. Improvement of symptoms is usually seen with continued walking. Numbness, tingling, swelling, or radiating pain are rare but reported symptoms. If the plantar fascia continues to be overused in the setting of plantar fasciitis, the plantar fascia can rupture. Typical signs and symptoms of plantar fascia rupture include a clicking or snapping sound, significant local swelling, and acute pain in the sole of the foot.
Plantar fasciitis is one of many conditions causing “heel pain”. Some other possible causes include nerve compression either in the foot or in the back, stress fracture of the calcaneus, and loss of the fatty tissue pad under the heel. Plantar fasciitis can be distinguished from these and other conditions based on a history and examination done by a physician. It should be noted that heel spurs are often inappropriately thought to be the sole cause of heel pain. In fact, heel spurs are common and are nothing more than the bone’s response to traction or pulling-type forces from the plantar fascia and other muscles in the foot where they attach to the heel bone. They are commonly present in patients without pain, and frequently absent from those who have pain. It is the rare patient who has a truly enlarged and problematic spur requiring surgery.
Non Surgical Treatment
To alleviate the stress and pain on the fascia, the person can take shorter steps and avoid walking barefoot. Activities that involve foot impact, such as jogging, should be avoided. The most effective treatments include the use of in-shoe heel and arch cushioning with calf-stretching exercises and night splints that stretch the calf and plantar fascia while the patient sleeps. Prefabricated or custom-made foot orthotics may also alleviate fascial tension and symptoms. Other treatments may include activity modifications, NSAIDs, weight loss in obese patients, cold and ice massage therapy, and occasional corticosteroid injections. However, because corticosteroid injections can predispose to plantar fasciosis, many clinicians limit these injections. For recalcitrant cases, physical therapy, oral corticosteroids, and cast immobilization should be used before surgical intervention is considered. A newer form of treatment for recalcitrant types of plantar fasciosis is extracorporeal pulse activation therapy (EPAT), in which low-frequency pulse waves are delivered locally using a handheld applicator. The pulsed pressure wave is a safe, noninvasive technique that stimulates metabolism and enhances blood circulation, which helps regenerate damaged tissue and accelerate healing. EPAT is being used at major medical centers.
In cases that do not respond to any conservative treatment, surgical release of the plantar fascia may be considered. Plantar fasciotomy may be performed using open, endoscopic or radiofrequency lesioning techniques. Overall, the success rate of surgical release is 70 to 90 percent in patients with plantar fasciitis. Potential risk factors include flattening of the longitudinal arch and heel hypoesthesia as well as the potential complications associated with rupture of the plantar fascia and complications related to anesthesia.