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What Exactly Causes Heel Discomfort

Plantar Fascia

Overview

The plantar fascia acts like a bowstring and supports the arch and several muscles inside the foot. When there is increased stress on the arch, microscopic tears can occur within the plantar fascia, usually at its attachment on the heel. This results in inflammation and pain with standing and walking and sometimes at rest.


Causes

Plantar Fasciitis often leads to heel pain, heel spurs, and/or arch pain. The excessive stretching of the plantar fascia that leads to the inflammation and discomfort can be caused by the following: Over-pronation (flat feet) which results in the arch collapsing upon weight bearing A foot with an unusually high arch A sudden increase in physical activity Excessive weight on the foot, usually attributed to obesity or pregnancy Improperly fitting footwear Over-pronation (flat feet) is the leading cause of plantar fasciitis. Over-pronation occurs in the walking process, when a person’s arch collapses upon weight bearing, causing the plantar fascia to be stretched away from the heel bone. With Plantar Fasciitis, the bottom of your foot usually hurts near the inside of the foot where the heel and arch meet. The pain is often acute either first thing in the morning or after a long rest, because while resting the plantar fascia contracts back to its original shape. As the day progresses and the plantar fascia continues to be stretched, the pain often subsides.


Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis is characterized by the following signs and symptoms. Acute plantar fasciitis, pain is usually worse in the morning but may improve when activity continues; if the plantar fasciitis is severe, activity will exacerbate the pain, pain will worsen during the day and may radiate to calf or forefoot, pain may be described anywhere from “minor pulling” sensation, to “burning”, or to “knife-like”, the plantar fascia may be taut or thickened, passive stretching of the plantar fascia or the patient standing on their toes may exacerbate symptoms, acute tenderness deep in the heel-pad along the insertion of the plantar aponeurosis at the medial calcaneal tuberosity and along the length of the plantar fascia, may have localized swelling. Chronic plantar fasciitis, plantar fasciitis is classified as “chronic” if it has not resolved after six months, pain occurs more distally along the aponeurosis and spreads into the Achilles tendon.


Diagnosis

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

Most doctors recommend an initial six- to eight-week program of conservative treatment, including Rest, balanced with stretching exercises to lengthen the heel cord and plantar fascia. Ice massage to the bottom of the foot after activities that trigger heel pain. Avoidance of walking barefoot or wearing slippers or sandals that provide little arch support. A temporary switch to swimming and/or bicycling instead of sports that involve running and jumping. Shoes with soft heels and insoles. Taping the bottom of the injured foot. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and other brand names), or acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain. Physical therapy using ultrasound, electrical stimulation with corticosteroids or massage techniques. If this conservative treatment does not help, your doctor may recommend that you wear a night splint for six to eight weeks. While you sleep, the night splint will keep your foot in a neutral or slightly flexed (bent) position to help maintain the normal stretch of the plantar fascia and heel cord. If the night splint doesn’t work, your doctor may inject corticosteroid medication into the painful area or place your foot in a short leg cast for one to three months. Shock wave therapy, in which focused sound energy is applied to the sore heel, may be recommended for plantar fasciitis. The shock waves are intended to irritate or injure the plantar fascia to promote healing. The overall benefit of this approach is uncertain. Other therapies that have been tried include radiation therapy and botulinum toxin injections. But their effectiveness is unclear. If all else fails, your doctor may suggest surgery. But this is rare, and surgery is not always successful.

Foot Pain


Surgical Treatment

When more conservative methods have failed to reduce plantar fasciitis pain, your doctor may suggest extracorporeal shock wave therapy, which is used to treat chronic plantar fasciitis. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy uses sound waves to stimulate healing, but may cause bruises, numbness, tingling, swelling, and pain. When all else fails, surgery may be recommended to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone. Few people need surgery to treat the condition.


Prevention

Preventing plantar fasciitis is crucial. There are many choices to help prevent the occurrence of this condition, and keep it from returning. One of the most important is maintaining a healthy weight in order to reduce tension on the plantar fascia. In addition, shoes are very important, and should fit well and provide ample cushioning and support throughout the heel, arch, and ball of the foot so that weight is distributed evenly throughout the foot. Try to avoid walking barefoot on hard surfaces and replace old shoes before they wear out, especially shoes that you run or exercise in. When exercising, start off slow and ease into new routines to prevent sudden or excessive stress on tissue. Lastly, keep your calf muscles and the tissue of your feet stretched. Greater flexibility in the tissue makes them less susceptible to damage.

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