Heel pain is one of those problems that people understand the instant they hear the name. Most people have dealt with aching heels before—even those who haven’t had symptoms understand exactly what the problem is. It’s an unfortunately common condition that can impair your mobility.
The Most Common Cause of Heel Pain
While many different injuries can cause heel pain, the most common condition is plantar fasciitis. This is inflammation, stiffness, and thickening in the plantar fascia band. It develops when the ligament is strained and overloaded. Your plantar fascia is a long, tough connector, attaching your toes to your heel bone and helping support your arch. It stretches slightly as you step to help your limbs absorb shock; however, it has a limit to how far it will stretch. Excessive, repetitive force on the foot can over-pull the ligament and injure it.
You end up with a sharp pain underneath your heel bone. Often, the pain is worst in the morning when you first get up, or after spending an extended period of time sitting. The ligament tends to stiffen when you’re at rest, so standing suddenly stretches out the tissue and creates painful micro-tears. Long periods of walking, running, or other activities can aggravate the ligament as well. The condition worsens over time.
Know Your Risks
Lots of different issues can contribute to heel pain from plantar fasciitis. It’s an overuse problem, so sudden changes in your activities or biomechanical issues can strain your foot over time. Your arch shape may influence the problem as well; flat feet and high arches are not as efficient at absorbing shock as a normal midfoot arch, so they are more prone to injuries. Obesity, a tight Achilles tendon, poorly fitted shoes , and a change in your exercise routines can also all play a role.
Plantar fasciitis does not improve on its own—in fact, it tends to worsen the longer it goes untreated. A chronically thickened plantar fascia is difficult to treat conservatively. Eventually, the discomfort may change your gait and lead to other lower limb problems. Worse, you have a higher risk for rupturing the plantar fascia.
Relieving the Ache
Fortunately, the majority of all plantar fasciitis treatments are conservative. Dr. Paul C. LaFata will need to examine your painful heels to accurately diagnose your condition. Our staff will use a variety of tests, and possibly diagnostic images, to rule out other potential causes. We’ll also look for contributing factors that may influence your heel comfort. Then, we can help you begin treatments.
The most important step will be reducing the strain on your heel so the ligament isn’t constantly stressed and aggravated. Most likely, you will need to take a break from hard impact activities until your heel has had a chance to recover. You may need to change your footwear as well. Make sure you choose shoes that have plenty of padding in the sole—particularly in the heel—and sufficient support through the arch. This may mean using custom orthotics to correct any biomechanical issues and provide an extra layer of cushioning for the back of the foot.
Icing and stretching helps combat irritation and relax tightened tissues. Physical therapy is particularly good for this. Wearing night splints sometimes helps minimize the stiffening overnight. We may also recommend medications to help manage inflammation in your soft tissues. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy may benefit heels that aren’t responding to other noninvasive methods. Stubborn heel pain may need somewhat more invasive measures, like direct injections of medications. In rare cases, you may need surgery to release the damaged connector.
Heel pain from plantar fasciitis is easier to manage the sooner you address the problem. Conversely, if you wait, you risk the problem becoming chronic and hard to treat. Don’t wait to invest in your feet—you can eliminate the pain now. Contact West Lawn Podiatry Associates in West Lawn, PA , for more information or to make an appointment by calling (610) 678-4581.