Heel pain is most often caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition that is sometimes also called heel spur syndrome when a spur is present. Heel pain may also be due to other causes, such as a stress
fracture, tendonitis, arthritis, nerve irritation, or, rarely, a cyst. Because there are several potential causes, it is important to have heel pain properly diagnosed. A foot and ankle surgeon is
able to distinguish between all the possibilities and determine the underlying source of your heel pain. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that extends
from the heel to the toes. In this condition, the fascia first becomes irritated and then inflamed, resulting in heel pain.
Far and away the most common cause of plantar fasciitis in an athlete is faulty biomechanics of the foot or leg. Faulty biomechanics causes the foot to sustain increased or prolonged stresses over
and above those of routine ground contacts. Throughout the phase of ground contact, the foot assumes several mechanical positions to dissipate shock while at the same time placing the foot in the
best position to deliver ground forces. With heel landing the foot is supinated (ankle rolled out). At mid-stance the foot is pronated (ankle rolled in). The foot is supinated again with toe-off. The
supination of the foot at heel strike and toe-off makes the foot a rigid lever. At heel strike the shock of ground contact is transferred to the powerful quads. During toe-off forward motion is
created by contraction of the gastroc complex plantar flexing the rigid lever of the foot pushing the body forward.
The major complaint of those with plantar fasciitis is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. This develops gradually over time. It usually affects just one foot, but can affect both feet.
Some people describe the pain as dull, while others experience a sharp pain, and some feel a burning or ache on the bottom of the foot extending outward from the heel. The pain is usually worse in
the morning when you take your first steps out of bed, or if youâve been sitting or lying down for a while. Climbing stairs can be very difficult due to the heel stiffness. After prolonged
activity, the pain can flare-up due to increased inflammation. Pain is not usually felt during the activity, but rather just after stopping.
Your doctor can usually diagnose plantar fasciitis just by talking to you and examining your feet. Rarely, tests are needed if the diagnosis is uncertain or to rule out other possible causes of heel
pain. These can include X-rays of the heel or an ultrasound scan of the fascia. An ultrasound scan usually shows thickening and swelling of the fascia in plantar fasciitis.
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 athleteâs 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.
Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue
to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what
kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive
shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis can be a nagging problem, which gets worse and more difficult to treat the longer it's present. To prevent plantar fasciitis, run on soft surfaces, keep mileage increases to less
than 10 percent per week, and visit a specialty running shop to make sure you're wearing the proper shoes for your foot type and gait. It's also important to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles