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What Is Heel Pain

Heel Discomfort

Overview

The American College of Sports and Medicine (1) estimates that the average adult takes between 5,000 and 10,000 steps per day. The brunt of this activity is borne by the bones, muscles and ligaments of the foot. Healthy feet have strong, wonderfully flexible ligaments which are designed to support standing, walking and running. Plantar Fasciitis (pronounced "plantar fash-ee-eye-tis") is defined as inflammation of, or damage to, one of the most important ligaments in the foot - the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia ligament is located along the sole of your foot. It is made up of fibrous tissue that stretches outward from the heel bone, like a strong piece of elastic, and then branches out across the arch and through the ball area of the foot toward the toes.




Causes

Plantar fasciitis occurs when the thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot is overstretched or overused. This can be painful and make walking more difficult. You are more likely to get plantar fasciitis if you Have foot arch problems (both flat feet and high arches), run long distances, downhill or on uneven surfaces, are obese or gain weight suddenly, have a tight Achilles tendon (the tendon connecting the calf muscles to the heel), wear shoes with poor arch support or soft soles. Plantar fasciitis is seen in both men and women. However, it most often affects active men ages 40 - 70. It is one of the most common orthopedic foot complaints. Plantar fasciitis was commonly thought to be caused by a heel spur. However, research has found that this is not the case. On x-ray, heel spurs are seen in people with and without plantar fasciitis.




Symptoms

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis can occur suddenly or gradually. When they occur suddenly, there is usually intense heel pain on taking the first morning steps, known as first-step pain. This heel pain will often subside as you begin to walk around, but it may return in the late afternoon or evening. When symptoms occur gradually, a more long-lasting form of heel pain will cause you to shorten your stride while running or walking. You also may shift your weight toward the front of the foot, away from the heel.




Diagnosis

A health care professional will ask you whether you have the classic symptoms of first-step pain and about your activities, including whether you recently have intensified your training or changed your exercise pattern. Your doctor often can diagnose plantar fasciitis based on your history and symptoms, together with a physical examination. If the diagnosis is in doubt, your doctor may order a foot X-ray, bone scan or nerve conduction studies to rule out another condition, such as a stress fracture or nerve problem.




Non Surgical Treatment

The following self-help treatments have been found to be most effective. Rest your foot. Reduce the amount of weight-bearing activities you participate in. Get off of your feet and elevate them. This will allow healing to begin. Apply ice to your foot. Applications of ice packs that provide a comfortable cooling to the heel and arch (not a freezing cold) will help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Apply the ice to the heel and arch (not the toes). Make sure it is comfortable, and leave on your foot for about 20 minutes, 3 times a day. If you have any medical problems such as diabetes, poor circulation, etc., discuss the use of ice with your doctor before applying the ice. ActiveWrap allows you to apply comfortable cold therapy to your foot without messy ice cubes. Use while on the "go." Do not walk with bare feet. Always protect your heels, arches, and plantar fascia with good supportive shoes. Orthaheel Orthotic Flip Flops For Men and Women are designed for walking comfort with built in orthotic footbeds that help reduce foot pain from plantar fasciitis. Use in the house or on the beach. Stretch the Plantar Fascia while sleeping. Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spur pain is usually worse with the first steps in the morning. This is due to the Plantar Fascia tightening up, or contracting while we sleep. To prevent these pain producing contractures of the plantar fascia, the foot must be held in its normal or neutral position while we sleep. This optimal position of the foot is maintained with our comfortable and supportive Night Splint. When foot contractures are prevented during sleep, the "first step pains" Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spurs will gradually subside. Stretch the Plantar Fascia during the day. Even though the Plantar Fascia is a thick tissue band with very little "give" to it, with the proper care (a Night Splint and the following exercises) it can be stretched a small amount. By stretching the Plantar Fascia even a bit, its abnormal pull on the heel is reduced. This will help to reduce pain and inflammation in the heel and arch. Two of the most effective exercises recommended are. Before stepping down, especially after sleeping or resting, stretch the arch of the foot by stretching your legs out in front of you (do not bend the knee). Place a towel around the ball of the foot. Slowly pull on the ends of the towel, pulling the toes and ball of the foot back as far as is comfortable. Hold the foot in this position for ten seconds. Repeat at least ten times. You should feel a pull on the bottom of the foot, especially in the arch. This stretches the plantar fascia, and reduces its pull on the heel. Stand about 2 to 3 feet from a wall. Lean forward with your hands against the wall. With the painful foot behind, place the other foot forward. Press against the wall, shifting weight over the front foot, while straightening the back leg. Keep the heel of the back foot on the floor and feel the stretch in the heel, Achilles tendon, and calf. Hold this position for ten seconds. Repeat at least ten times, and try to do this three times a day. When these things are achieved, the inflammation and pain of Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spurs will gradually subside. If you are unsure of the nature of your foot problem, if your pain is intense and does not subside, if you are a diabetic or have other medical problems, if your pain is due to an injury, if an open sore is present, if a mass can be felt, or if you think that you may have an infection, we suggest that before beginning any of the above treatments you consult with your doctor.

Plantar Fasciitis




Surgical Treatment

In very rare cases plantar fascia surgery is suggested, as a last resort. In this case the surgeon makes an incision into the ligament, partially cutting the plantar fascia to release it. If a heel spur is present, the surgeon will remove it. Plantar Fasciitis surgery should always be considered the last resort when all the conventional treatment methods have failed to succeed. Endoscopic plantar fasciotomy (EPF) is a form of surgery whereby two incisions are made around the heel and the ligament is being detached from the heel bone allowing the new ligament to develop in the same place. In some cases the surgeon may decide to remove the heel spur itself, if present. Just like any type of surgery, Plantar Fascia surgery comes with certain risks and side effects. For example, the arch of the foot may drop and become weak. Wearing an arch support after surgery is therefore recommended. Heel spur surgeries may also do some damage to veins and arteries of your foot that allow blood supply in the area. This will increase the time of recovery.




Prevention

Maintain a healthy weight. This minimizes the stress on your plantar fascia. Choose supportive shoes. Avoid high heels. Buy shoes with a low to moderate heel, good arch support and shock absorbency. Don't go barefoot, especially on hard surfaces. Don't wear worn-out athletic shoes. Replace your old athletic shoes before they stop supporting and cushioning your feet. If you're a runner, buy new shoes after about 500 miles of use. Change your sport. Try a low-impact sport, such as swimming or bicycling, instead of walking or jogging. Apply ice. Hold a cloth-covered ice pack over the area of pain for 15 to 20 minutes three or four times a day or after activity. Or try ice massage. Freeze a water-filled paper cup and roll it over the site of discomfort for about five to seven minutes. Regular ice massage can help reduce pain and inflammation. Stretch your arches. Simple home exercises can stretch your plantar fascia, Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
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