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What Causes Heel Pain

Pain Under The Heel

Overview

If your first step in the morning often feels like it involves a rusty nail being inserted into your heel, you’re not alone. Heel pain resulting from plantar fasciitis is the most prevalent condition treated in podiatric clinics, and an additional 1 million Americans annually are seen by medical doctors for the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plantar fascia is the ligament that runs from the heel bone across the entire bottom of the foot and connects at the base of the toes. Ligaments connect bone to bone, and don’t really constrict or contract, but can become thickened because of inflammation. Inflammation of the plantar fascia can cause strain when you walk, specifically heel pain that is especially bad for the first few steps after prolonged inactivity. It then typically loosens up once you’re up and about.



Causes

Patients with tight calf muscles will suffer with excessive pulling of the muscle group on the back of the heel. This in turn creates pulling of other structures that are attached to the heel, including the Plantar Fascia. When the pulling continues for long enough, then inflammation will develop and lead to Plantar Fasciitis. This causes Heel Pain. It is extremely common for patients who increase their level of activity to develop Plantar Fasciitis. Boot camp, running, zumba, recreational walking or other quick movement sports such as tennis or touch football are typical causes of Heel Pain. The sharp increase in exercise is too much for the foot to cope with and the stress on the Plantar Fascia causes inflammation. The Heel Pain that is caused by this inflammation is known as Plantar Fasciitis.



Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis generally occurs in one foot. Bilateral plantar fasciitis is unusual and tends to be the result of a systemic arthritic condition that is exceptionally rare among athletes. Males suffer from a somewhat greater incidence of plantar fasciitis than females, perhaps as a result of greater weight coupled with greater speed and ground impact, as well as less flexibility in the foot. Typically, the sufferer of plantar fasciitis experiences pain upon rising after sleep, particularly the first step out of bed. Such pain is tightly localized at the bony landmark on the anterior medial tubercle of the calcaneus. In some cases, pain may prevent the athlete from walking in a normal heel-toe gait, causing an irregular walk as means of compensation. Less common areas of pain include the forefoot, Achilles tendon, or subtalar joint. After a brief period of walking, the pain usually subsides, but returns again either with vigorous activity or prolonged standing or walking. On the field, an altered gait or abnormal stride pattern, along with pain during running or jumping activities are tell-tale signs of plantar fasciitis and should be given prompt attention. Further indications of the injury include poor dorsiflexion (lifting the forefoot off the ground) due to a shortened gastroc complex, (muscles of the calf). Crouching in a full squat position with the sole of the foot flat on the ground can be used as a test, as pain will preclude it for the athlete suffering from plantar fasciitis, causing an elevation of the heel due to tension in the gastroc complex.



Diagnosis

Plantar fasciitis is one of many conditions causing "heel pain". Some other possible causes include nerve compression either in the foot or in the back, stress fracture of the calcaneus, and loss of the fatty tissue pad under the heel. Plantar fasciitis can be distinguished from these and other conditions based on a history and examination done by a physician. It should be noted that heel spurs are often inappropriately thought to be the sole cause of heel pain. In fact, heel spurs are common and are nothing more than the bone's response to traction or pulling-type forces from the plantar fascia and other muscles in the foot where they attach to the heel bone. They are commonly present in patients without pain, and frequently absent from those who have pain. It is the rare patient who has a truly enlarged and problematic spur requiring surgery.



Non Surgical Treatment

The following recommendations are appropriate. Wear shoes with adequate arch support and cushioned heels; discard old running shoes and wear new ones; rotate work shoes daily. Avoid long periods of standing. Lose weight. Stretch the plantar fascia and warm up the lower extremity before participating in exercise. For increased flexibility, stretch the plantar fascia and the calf after exercise. Do not exercise on hard surfaces. Avoid walking barefooted on hard surfaces. Avoid high-impact sports that require a great deal of jumping (eg, aerobics and volleyball). Apply ice for 20 minutes after repetitive impact-loading activities and at the end of the day. Limit repetitive impact-loading activities such as running to every other day, and consider rest or cross-training for nonrunning days.

Feet 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.

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