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Understanding Heel Pain
30.06.2017 09:01
Overview

Pain Under The Heel

Heel pain is one of the most common conditions treated by podiatrists. It is often a message from the body that something is in need of medical attention. Pain that occurs right after an injury or early in an illness may play a protective role, often warning us about the damage we have suffered. The greatest incidence of heel pain is seen in middle-aged men and women. It is also seen in those who take part in regular sporting activities and those significantly overweight and on their feet a lot. Heel pain can also occur in children, usually between 8 and 13, as they become increasingly active in sporting activities.

Causes

Some of the many causes of heel pain can include abnormal walking style (gait), such as rolling the feet inwards. Obesity. Ill-fitting shoes. Standing, running or jumping on hard surfaces. Injury to the heel, such as stress fractures. Bursitis (inflammation of a bursa, bursae are small sacs that contain fluid to lubricate moving parts, such as joints and muscles). Neuroma (nerve enlargement). Certain disorders, including diabetes and arthritis.

Symptoms

Pain typically comes on gradually, with no injury to the affected area. It is frequently triggered by wearing a flat shoe, such as flip-flop sandals. Flat footwear may stretch the plantar fascia to such an extent that the area becomes swollen (inflamed). In most cases, the pain is under the foot, toward the front of the heel. Post-static dyskinesia (pain after rest) symptoms tend to be worse just after getting out of bed in the morning, and after a period of rest during the day. After a bit of activity symptoms often improve a bit. However, they may worsen again toward the end of the day.

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

Recommended treatments, heel Spurs: cushioning for the heel is of little value. Your chiropodist/podiatrist may initially apply padding and strapping to alter the direction of stretch of the ligament. This is often successful at reducing the tenderness in the short term. Your chiropodist/podiatrist may suggest a course of deep heat therapy to stimulate the healing processes, allowing damage to respond and heal faster. In the long term, your chiropodist/podiatrist may prescribe special insoles (orthoses) to help the feet to function more effectively, thereby reducing strain on the ligaments and making any recurrence less likely. If pain from heel spurs continues, you may be referred to your GP who can prescribe an oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Alternatively, localised hydrocortisone injection treatment may be given by your GP or an appropriate chiropodist/podiatrist. If pain persists, surgery may be considered. Heel Bursitis: in most cases, attention to the cause of any rubbing, and appropriate padding and strapping by your chiropodist/podiatrist will allow the inflammation to settle. If infection is present, your chiropodist/podiatrist will refer you to your GP for antibiotics. Heel Bumps: adjustments to footwear is often enough to make them comfortable. A leather heel counter and wearing boots may help. However, if pain persists, surgery may be necessary.

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.

How do you treat heel pain?

Prevention

Heel Pain

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.

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