Your foot is made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 tendons. The heel is the largest bone in your foot. If you overuse or injure your heel, you may experience Heel Pain. This can range from mild to disabling. In many cases, if you have heel pain, you will need a doctor to diagnose the cause.
Heel pain sometimes results from excessive pronation. Pronation is the normal flexible motion and flattening of the arch of the foot that allows it to adapt to ground surfaces and absorb shock in the normal walking pattern. As you walk, the heel contacts the ground first; the weight shifts first to the outside of the foot, then moves toward the big toe. The arch rises, the foot generally rolls upward and outward, becoming rigid and stable in order to lift the body and move it forward. Excessive pronation-excessive inward motion-can create an abnormal amount of stretching and pulling on the ligaments and tendons attaching to the bottom back of the heel bone. Excessive pronation may also contribute to injury to the hip, knee, and lower back.
Sever?s Disease. This is a condition that occurs in 10 – 15 year old children, predominantly boys and is associated with running and repetitive jumping. It is also associated with flimsy footwear that kids may wear. It occurs when the Achilles tendon continually pulls on the apophysis of the calcaneum and does not allow for it to fuse with the body of the calcaneum. Calcaneal enthesopathy. This occurs when there is repetitive trauma at the attachment of the Achilles tendon, resulting in a spur from the calcaneum up into the Achilles tendon. It is usually visualized on x-ray and may be tender if there is an associated bursitis or tendonitis. “Pump Bump”. Also known as Haglund?s Deformity, this is a bony enlargement that exists on the back of the heel – usually related to a congenital abnormality or with chronic bursitis, causing a thickening. There may have already been trauma or pressure from footwear. Treatment is usually protection of the bump and correct footwear. Associated with a symmetrical swelling at the base of the Achilles tendon. It is usually related to repetitive trauma or inappropriate footwear. It is often red and hot in the early stages. Treatment is usually to correct the footwear, provide padding and treat the local symptoms e.g. ice, rest, physiotherapy and cortisone injection. Fat Pad Syndrome. Direct contact with the base of the heel may result in trauma to the fat pad. Related to obesity, training on hard surfaces, uneven grounds, poor shoes especially overlarge shoes which can cause shearing forces on the heel. These conditions are renowned for taking a long time to recover – usually many months.
Your doctor will listen to your complaints about your heel and examine you to see what is causing the pain, and whether anything else has started it off. If the cause of your pain seems obvious, your doctor may be happy to start treatment straight away. However, some tests may be helpful in ruling out other problems. Blood tests may be done for arthritis. An Xray will show any arthritis in the ankle or subtalar joint, as well as any fracture or cyst in the calcaneum. (It will also show a spur if you have one, but as we know this is not the cause of the pain.) Occasionally a scan may be used to help spot arthritis or a stress fracture.
Non Surgical Treatment
Most patients get better with the help of nonsurgical treatments. Stretches for the calf muscles on the back of the lower leg take tension off the plantar fascia. A night splint can be worn while you sleep. The night splint keeps your foot from bending downward. It places a mild stretch on the calf muscles and the plantar fascia. Some people seem to get better faster when using a night splint. They report having less heel pain when placing the sore foot on the ground in the morning. There have been a few studies that reported no significant benefit from adding night splinting to a program of antiinflammatory meds and stretching. Other studies report the benefits of short-term casting to unload the heel, immobilize the plantar fascia, and reduce repetitive microtrauma. Supporting the arch with a well fitted arch support, or orthotic, may also help reduce pressure on the plantar fascia. Placing a special type of insert into the shoe, called a heel cup, can reduce the pressure on the sore area. Wearing a silicone heel pad adds cushion to a heel that has lost some of the fat pad through degeneration. Shock wave therapy is a newer form of nonsurgical treatment. It uses a machine to generate shock wave pulses to the sore area. Patients generally receive the treatment once each week for up to three weeks. It is not known exactly why it works for plantar fasciitis. It’s possible that the shock waves disrupt the plantar fascial tissue enough to start a healing response. The resulting release of local growth factors and stem cells causes an increase in blood flow to the area. Recent studies indicate that this form of treatment can help ease pain, while improving range of motion and function.
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.
It is not always possible to prevent heel pain, but there are measures you can take to help avoid further episodes. Being overweight can place excess pressure and strain on your feet, particularly on your heels. This increases the risk of damaging your feet and heels. If you are overweight, losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy, balanced diet can be beneficial for your feet. You can calculate your body mass index (BMI) to find out whether you are a healthy weight for your height and build. To work out your BMI, divide your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared. A BMI of less than 18.5 means that you are underweight, 18.5-24.9 means that your weight is healthy, 25-29 means that you are overweight, 30-40 means that you are obese, over 40 means that you are morbidly obese. You can also use the BMI healthy weight calculator to work out your BMI.