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Heel Soreness The Causes, Symptoms And Therapy Options

June 29, 2017
Overview

Feet Pain

There are two categories of heel pain: pain on the bottom (plantar) and pain on the back of the heel bone (calcaneus). The most common cause pain on the bottom of the heel is plantar fasciitis or better known as heel spur syndrome. Another common cause is nerve entrapment (~70% of patients have both plantar fasciitis and nerve entrapment) and less commonly, stress fracture, arthritis, tendonitis, a cyst or a combination of these. Pain on the back of the heel most often involves the insertion of the Achilles tendon into the bone. Due to the multi-factorial nature of heel pain, the earlier a diagnosis is made, the better the outcome.

Causes

Common causes of heel pain include Achilles tendinitis, Achilles tendon rupture, Bone tumor, Bursitis, Fibromyalgia, Fracture, Gout, Heel pad wear and tear, Heel spur, Osteomyelitis, Peripheral neuropathy, Pinched nerve, Plantar fasciitis, Rheumatoid arthritis, Stress fractures, Tarsal tunnel syndrome, Tendinitis. Causes shown here are commonly associated with this symptom. Work with your doctor or other health care professional for an accurate diagnosis.

Symptoms

Pain in the bottom of the heel is the most common symptom. The pain is often described as a knife-like, pinpoint pain that is worse in the morning and generally improves throughout the day. By the end of the day the pain may be replaced by a dull ache that improves with rest. The pain results from stretching the damaged tissues. For the same reason atheletes' pain occurs during beginning stages of exercise and is relieved over time as warm-up loosens the fascia. Plantar fasciitis onset is usually gradual, only flaring up during exercise. If pain is ignored, it can eventually interfere with walking and overall, plantar fasciitis accounts for about ten percent of all running injuries.

Diagnosis

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

Most heel pain is caused by a combination of poor biomechanics, or muscle weakness or tightness. The good news is that heel pain can be effectively managed once the cause is identified. Most heel pain can be successfully treated via pain and pressure relief techniques, biomechanical correction eg orthotics, taping, foot posture exercises, muscle stretches and massage, lower limb muscle strengthening, proprioceptive and balance exercises to stimulate your foot intrinsic muscles. If you feel that your footwear or sports training schedule are potentially causing your heel pain, then we recommend that you seek the advice of a sports physiotherapist, podiatrist or trained footwear specialist (not just a shop assistant) to see if your shoe is a match for your foot; or discuss your training regime to see if you are doing too much. Heel pain and injury are extremely common. With accurate assessment and early treatment most heel pain injuries respond extremely quickly to physiotherapy allowing you to quickly resume pain-free and normal activities of daily living. Please ask you physiotherapist for their professional treatment advice.

Surgical Treatment

If treatment hasn't worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery - where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.

heel spur surgery

Prevention

Painful Heel

It may not be possible to prevent all cases of heel pain. However, there are some easy steps that you can take to avoid injury to the heel and prevent pain. Whenever possible, you should wear shoes that fit properly and support the foot, wear the right shoes for physical activity, stretch your muscles before exercising, pace yourself during physical activity, maintain a healthy diet, rest when you feel tired or when your muscles ache, maintain a healthy weight.

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