What Can Cause Heel Ache

Overview

Foot Pain

Many types of heel pain are simply the result of overuse injuries and can easily be avoided. Follow these tips to reduce your chances of heel pain. Wear properly fitting shoes with good arch support. Replace them regularly. Stretch your feet, ankles, and legs before and after you exercise. Avoid walking barefoot on hard surfaces. If your feet hurt, stop what you?re doing. No pain is normal. Keep your weight under control, being overweight or obese can be a significant contributor to heel pain.

Causes

Rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of arthritis, including gout, which usually manifests itself in the big toe joint, can cause heel discomfort in some cases. Heel pain may also be the result of an inflamed bursa (bursitis), a small, irritated sack of fluid behind the heel. A neuroma (a nerve growth) involving the so-called Baxter's Nerve, (a nerve that courses under the heel bone), may also cause heel pain that mimics the pain of a heel spur. Tarsal Tunnel Syndrome, a pinched nerve beneath the inside ankle bone, too, can cause pain in the heel. Haglund's deformity ("pump bump") is a bone enlargement at the back of the heel bone, in the area where the Achilles tendon attaches to the bone. This sometimes painful deformity generally is the result of bursitis caused by pressure against the shoe, and can be aggravated by the height or stitching of a heel counter of a particular shoe. Pain at the back of the heel is associated with inflammation of the Achilles tendon as it runs behind the ankle and inserts on the back surface of the heel bone. The inflammation is called Achilles tendinitis. It is common among people who run and walk a lot and have tight tendons. The condition occurs when the tendon is strained over time, causing the fibbers to tear or stretch along its length, or at its insertion on to the heel bone. This leads to inflammation, pain, and the possible growth of a bone spur on the back of the heel bone. The inflammation is aggravated by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an active lifestyle and certain activities that strain an already tight tendon. Bone bruises (Periostitis), are also common heel injuries. A bone bruise or contusion is an inflammation of the tissues that cover the heel bone. A bone bruise is a sharply painful injury caused by the direct impact of a hard object or surface on the foot. Stress fractures of the heel bone also can occur, but these are less frequent. On very rare occasions, there can be problems within the bone structure itself that cause heel pain. Paget's disease, cysts, bone tumours, and other conditions can occur in the heel causing pain, so it is important to be examined thoroughly.

Symptoms

Sever?s Disease. This is a condition that occurs in 10 - 15 year old children, predominantly boys and is associated with running and repetitive jumping. It is also associated with flimsy footwear that kids may wear. It occurs when the Achilles tendon continually pulls on the apophysis of the calcaneum and does not allow for it to fuse with the body of the calcaneum. Calcaneal enthesopathy. This occurs when there is repetitive trauma at the attachment of the Achilles tendon, resulting in a spur from the calcaneum up into the Achilles tendon. It is usually visualized on x-ray and may be tender if there is an associated bursitis or tendonitis. "Pump Bump". Also known as Haglund?s Deformity, this is a bony enlargement that exists on the back of the heel - usually related to a congenital abnormality or with chronic bursitis, causing a thickening. There may have already been trauma or pressure from footwear. Treatment is usually protection of the bump and correct footwear. Associated with a symmetrical swelling at the base of the Achilles tendon. It is usually related to repetitive trauma or inappropriate footwear. It is often red and hot in the early stages. Treatment is usually to correct the footwear, provide padding and treat the local symptoms e.g. ice, rest, physiotherapy and cortisone injection. Fat Pad Syndrome. Direct contact with the base of the heel may result in trauma to the fat pad. Related to obesity, training on hard surfaces, uneven grounds, poor shoes especially overlarge shoes which can cause shearing forces on the heel. These conditions are renowned for taking a long time to recover - usually many months.

Diagnosis

Your GP or podiatrist (a healthcare professional who specialises in foot care) may be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and examining your heel and foot. You will usually only need further tests if you have additional symptoms that suggest the cause of your heel pain is not inflammation, such as numbness or a tingling sensation in your foot - this could be a sign of nerve damage in your feet and legs (peripheral neuropathy), your foot feels hot and you have a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above - these could be signs of a bone infection, you have stiffness and swelling in your heel - this could be a sign of arthritis. Possible further tests may include, blood tests, X-rays - where small doses of radiation are used to detect problems with your bones and tissues, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or ultrasound scan, which are more detailed scans.

Non Surgical Treatment

Orthotics, by treating the cause of the problem, lead to the cure bette than 90% of the time. A small number of patients have waited so long that the plantar fascia has become thickened and filled with scar tissue and are not helped by ?conventional? means. Those are the patients that have, traditionally, required surgical treatment in which the plantar fascia is cut off the heel bone. Luckily, most surgery has been replaced by a relatively new mode of treatment, ESWT or Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy. ESWT involves the application of multiple shockwaves to the diseased tendon or ligament and has an approximately 85 to 90% success rate. Keep in mind we are talking about this success rate in patients who are ?tough cases,? that is, already had the conventional treatment. The ESWT machines look like miniature renal lithtripsors (kidney stone crushers). There are virtually no side effects to ESWT other than the price as only about 30% of insurance companies are paying for it. They realize that it is less costly and safer than surgery but also know that many more people who would avoid surgery would have no problem getting ESWT so the volume of services would go up. You don?t have to live with painful heels.

Surgical Treatment

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.

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Prevention

Pain On The Heel

Preventing heel pain is crucial to avoid pain that can easily interrupt a busy or active lifestyle. Athletes can prevent damage by stretching the foot and calf both before and after an exercise routine. The plantar fascia ligament can be stretched by using a tennis ball or water bottle and rolling it across the bottom of the foot. With regular stretching, the stretching and flexibility of tissue through the foot can be significantly improved, helping to prevent damage and injury. Athletes should also ease into new or more difficult routines, allowing the plantar fascia and other tissue to become accustomed to the added stress and difficulty. Running up hills is also common among athletes in their routines. However, this activity should be reduced since it places an increased amount of stress on the plantar fascia and increases the risk of plantar fasciitis. Maintaining a healthy weight is also an essential heel pain prevention technique. Obesity brings additional weight and stress on the heel of the foot, causing damage and pain in the heel as well as in other areas of the foot.
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