What Exactly Triggers Heel Discomfort

Foot Pain

Overview

Your plantar fascia ligament helps the bones of your foot absorb gait-related shock. It also holds your toes firmly on the ground as your body passes over your foot. Plantar fasciosis can manifest in people who possess either flat feet or feet with high arches, and it most commonly causes pain or discomfort at the point where your plantar fascia attaches to your calcaneus, or heel bone. Plantar fasciosis, sometimes known as calcaneal spur syndrome or calcaneal enthesopathy, can involve stretching, tearing, and degeneration of your plantar fascia at its attachment site. In some cases, heel pain at this attachment site may be caused by other health problems, including certain types of arthritis. Your physician may run several tests to help determine the true cause of your plantar fascia pain and the most effective treatment methods to resolve your complaint.




Causes

It is common to see patients with Plantar Fasciitis who have been wearing shoes that are too soft and flexible. The lack of support can be stressful on the heel for those patients who’s feet aren’t particularly stable. If these ill fitting shoes are worn for long enough, the stress will lead to Heel Pain as the inflammation of the fascia persists. Footwear assessment and advice will be essential in order to get on top of the Plantar Fasciitis. It may surprise some people to learn that high heeled shoes are not the cause of Plantar Fasciitis, although they can cause tight calf muscles. High arches can lead to Plantar Fasciitis. This is due to the lack of contact under the sole of the foot. Even sports shoes which appear to have good arch support inside are often too soft and not high enough to make contact with the arch of the foot. Hence, the plantar fascia is unsupported. This can lead to Heel pain and Plantar Fasciitis. Flat feet can lead to Plantar Fasciitis. Flat feet is caused by ligament laxity and leads to foot instability. Other structures such as muscles, tendons and fascia work harder to compensate for this instability. Heel pain or Plantar Fasciitis arises when the instability is too great for these other structures to cope with. The strain on the fascia is too severe and the inflammation sets in. Over stretching can lead to Plantar Fasciitis. Certain calf stretches put the foot into a position that creates a pulling sensation through the sole of the foot. This can cause Plantar Fasciitis which can cause pain in the arch of the foot as well as Heel Pain.




Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis is usually found in one foot. While bilateral plantar fasciitis is not unheard of, this condition is more the result of a systemic arthritic condition that is extremely rare in an athletic population. There is a greater incidence of plantar fasciitis in males than females (Ambrosius 1992). While no direct cause could be found it could be argued that males are generally heavier which, when combined with the greater speeds, increased ground contact forces, and less flexibility, may explain the greater injury predisposition. The most notable characteristic of plantar fasciitis is pain upon rising, particularly the first step out of bed. This morning pain can be located with pinpoint accuracy at the bony landmark on the anterior medial tubercle of the calcaneus. The pain may be severe enough to prevent the athlete from walking barefooted in a normal heel-toe gait. Other less common presentations include referred pain to the subtalar joint, the forefoot, the arch of the foot or the achilles tendon (Brantingham 1992). After several minutes of walking the pain usually subsides only to re turn with the vigorous activity of the day's training session. The problem should be obvious to the coach as the athlete will exhibit altered gait and/ or an abnormal stride pattern, and may complain of foot pain during running/jumping activities. Consistent with plantar fascia problems the athlete will have a shortened gastroc complex. This can be evidenced by poor dorsiflexion (lifting the forefoot off the ground) or inability to perform the "flying frog" position. In the flying frog the athlete goes into a full squat position and maintains balance and full ground contact with the sole of the foot. Elevation of the heel signifies a tight gastroc complex. This test can be done with the training shoes on.




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

Careful attention to footwear is critical. Every effort should be made to wear comfortable shoes with proper arch support, fostering proper foot posture. Should arch supports prove insufficient, an orthotic shoe should be considered. Fortunately, most cases of plantar fasciitis respond well to non-operative treatment. Recovery times however vary enormously from one athlete to another, depending on age, overall health and physical condition as well as severity of injury. A broad period between 6 weeks and 6 months is usually sufficient for proper healing. Additionally, the mode of treatment must be flexible depending on the details of a particular athlete’s injury. Methods that prove successful in one patient, may not improve the injury in another. Early treatment typically includes the use of anti-inflammatory medication, icing, stretching activities, and heel inserts and splints. Cortisone injections may be necessary to achieve satisfactory healing and retard inflammation. In later stages of the rehabilitation process, typically after the first week, ice should be discontinued and replaced with heat and massage.

Foot Pain




Surgical Treatment

If you consider surgery, your original diagnosis should be confirmed by the surgeon first. In addition, supporting diagnostic evidence (such as nerve-conduction studies) should be gathered to rule out nerve entrapment, particularly of the first branch of the lateral plantar nerve and the medial plantar nerve. Blood tests should consist of an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), rheumatoid factor, human leukocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27), and uric acid. It’s important to understand that surgical treatment of bone spurs rarely improves plantar fasciitis pain. And surgery for plantar fasciitis can cause secondary complications-a troubling condition known as lateral column syndrome.




Prevention

The best way to prevent plantar fasciitis is to wear shoes that are well made and fit your feet. This is especially important when you exercise or walk a lot or stand for a long time on hard surfaces. Get new athletic shoes before your old shoes stop supporting and cushioning your feet. You should also avoid repeated jarring to the heel. Keep a healthy weight. Do your leg and foot stretching exercises regularly.

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