The heel bone is the largest of the 26 bones in the human foot, which also has 33 joints and a network of more than 100 tendons, muscles, and ligaments. Like all bones, it is subject to outside influences that can affect its integrity and its ability to keep us on our feet. Heel Pain, sometimes disabling, can occur in the front, back, or bottom of the heel.
Heel pain is not usually caused by a single injury, such as a twist or fall, but rather the result of repetitive stress and pounding of the heel. The most common causes of heel pain are Plantar fasciitis (plantar fasciosis) – inflammation of the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a strong bowstring-like ligament that runs from the calcaneum (heel bone) to the tip of the foot. When the plantar fasciitis is stretched too far its soft tissue fibers become inflamed, usually where it attaches to the heel bone. Sometimes the problem may occur in the middle of the foot. The patient experiences pain under the foot, especially after long periods of rest. Some patients have calf-muscle cramps if the Achilles tendon tightens too. Heel bursitis, inflammation of the back of the heel, the bursa (a fibrous sac full of fluid). Can be caused by landing awkwardly or hard on the heels. Can also be caused by pressure from footwear. Pain is typically felt either deep inside the heel or at the back of the heel. Sometimes the Achilles tendon may swell. As the day progresses the pain usually gets worse. Heel bumps (pump bumps) common in teenagers. The heel bone is not yet fully mature and rubs excessively, resulting in the formation of too much bone. Often caused by having a flat foot. Among females can be caused by starting to wear high heels before the bone is fully mature Tarsal tunnel syndrome, a large nerve in the back of the foot becomes pinched, or entrapped (compressed). This is a type of compression neuropathy that can occur either in the ankle or foot. Chronic inflammation of the heel pad, caused either by the heel pad becoming too thin, or heavy footsteps. Stress fracture, this is a fracture caused by repetitive stress, commonly caused by strenuous exercise, sports or heavy manual work. Runners are particularly prone to stress fracture in the metatarsal bones of the foot. Can also be caused by osteoporosis. Severs disease (calcaneal apophysitis) the most common cause of heel pain in child/teenage athletes, caused by overuse and repetitive microtrauma of the growth plates of the calcaneus (heel bone). Children aged from 7-15 are most commonly affected. Achilles tendonosis (degenerative tendinopathy) also referred to as tendonitis, tendinosis and tendinopathy. A chronic (long-term) condition associated with the progressive degeneration of the Achilles tendon. Sometimes the Achilles tendon does not function properly because of multiple, minor microscopic tears of the tendon, which cannot heal and repair itself correctly, the Achilles tendon receives more tension than it can cope with and microscopic tears develop. Eventually, the tendon thickens, weakens and becomes painful.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis are pain on the bottom of the heel, pain in the arch of the foot, pain that is usually worse upon arising, pain that increases over a period of months. People with plantar fasciitis often describe the pain as worse when they get up in the morning or after they?ve been sitting for long periods of time. After a few minutes of walking the pain decreases, because walking stretches the fascia. For some people the pain subsides but returns after spending long periods of time on their feet.
The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is generally made during the history and physical examination. There are several conditions that can cause heel pain, and plantar fasciitis must be distinguished from these conditions. Pain can be referred to the heel and foot from other areas of the body such as the low back, hip, knee, and/or ankle. Special tests to challenge these areas are performed to help confirm the problem is truly coming from the plantar fascia. An X-ray may be ordered to rule out a stress fracture of the heel bone and to see if a bone spur is present that is large enough to cause problems. Other helpful imaging studies include bone scans, MRI, and ultrasound. Ultrasonographic exam may be favored as it is quick, less expensive, and does not expose you to radiation. Laboratory investigation may be necessary in some cases to rule out a systemic illness causing the heel pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, Reiter’s syndrome, or ankylosing spondylitis. These are diseases that affect the entire body but may show up at first as pain in the heel.
Non Surgical Treatment
Depending on the underlying cause, treatment can include. Rest from activities that stress the heel (such as running and jumping). Ice packs. Regular foot massage, concentrating on the arch of the foot. Professional strapping. A splint worn at night. Flexibility exercises. Ultrasound therapy. Anti-inflammatory medicine (topical or oral). Checking your posture and walking style, to correct imbalances and gait abnormalities that may contribute to the pain. Shoe inserts (orthoses) to help support the foot. In some cases, surgery may be recommended to treat conditions including neuroma, bursitis and heel spurs.
It is rare to need an operation for heel pain. It would only be offered if all simpler treatments have failed and, in particular, you are a reasonable weight for your height and the stresses on your heel cannot be improved by modifying your activities or footwear. The aim of an operation is to release part of the plantar fascia from the heel bone and reduce the tension in it. Many surgeons would also explore and free the small nerves on the inner side of your heel as these are sometimes trapped by bands of tight tissue. This sort of surgery can be done through a cut about 3cm long on the inner side of your heel. Recently there has been a lot of interest in doing the operation by keyhole surgery, but this has not yet been proven to be effective and safe. Most people who have an operation are better afterwards, but it can take months to get the benefit of the operation and the wound can take a while to heal fully. Tingling or numbness on the side of the heel may occur after operation.
Wear shoes that fit well, front, back and sides and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid uppers and supportive heel counters. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm-up before running or walking, and do some stretching exercises afterward. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. If overweight, try non weight-bearing activities such as swimming or cycling. Your podiatrist may also use taping or strapping to provide extra support for your foot. Orthoses (shoe inserts) specifically made to suit your needs may be also be prescribed.