Heel Pain

Intro to Heel PainIntroduction to Heel Pain

Heel pain is unlike most body aches and injuries because heels can’t be immobilized to rest and recover, at least without considerable inconvenience to the sufferer. Heels can’t be isolated and splinted either ,as body weight will continue to aggravate the condition with every step.

Heel pain can be devastating if left untreated, eventually impairing the ability to walk comfortably–or at all. Most heel pain comes from tendon problems, though some types can come from bone issues as well.

Here are a few in-depth explanations of heel pain causes and potential remedies for those that are afflicted:

Types of Heel Pain

Plantar Fascitis

One of the most well-known causes of heel pain, plantar fascitis occurs when the thick tissue along the arch of the foot becomes tight and inflamed. The foot itself can feel cramped when this tissue is inflamed, causing the afflicted person to feel as if they have a muscle cramp that flexing the foot doesn’t seem to alleviate. Plantar fascitis is most common among men over the age of 40.

Warning Signs:

  • The first steps in the morning are extremely painful
  • Pain flares up after activities like stair or steep hill climbing
  • Pain continues to occur regardless of the type of shoes or lack of shoes worn

Solutions:

  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Physical therapist-recommended stretching exercises
  • Orthopedic inserts

Heel Spurs

Heel spurs are, unsurprisingly, spur-like growths of bone that extend from beneath the heel bone, called the calcaneus. While they appear simultaneously with approximately 70% of plantar fascitis cases, no direct causal link has been clearly identified and they do still appear without pain in otherwise healthy individuals. A bone spur can aggravate the pain and inflammation of plantar fascitis, making it an important treatment focus for orthopedists.

Warning Signs:

  • Discovery during a foot X-ray
  • Diagnosis of plantar fascitis
  • Abnormal gait

Solutions:

  • Orthopedic inserts to relieve pressure on the spur
  • Ice packs to reduce swelling around the spur
  • Surgery in extreme cases where non-invasive therapies fail after more than a year

Arthritis of the Heel / Subtalar Arthritis

The heel is an important and highly used joint in the body, making it especially susceptible to the pain of arthritis. Arthritis in the heel, called subtalar arthritis, can be caused either by a sudden injury or fracture in the heel area or the degeneration and loss of cartilage that often comes with age. Without diagnosis and treatment the problem will get more severe and painful, as it will not heal on its own.

Warning Signs:

  • Difficulty moving the heel in a normal range of motion
  • Increasingly intense pain in the heel when walking on uneven surfaces

Solutions:

  • Corrective braces during sleep or while walking
  • Steroidal injections in the heel to relieve pain
  • Orthopedic inserts

Preventative Measures for Heel Pain

Flexibility is key when it comes to staving off the pain associated with these heel conditions. The body is designed to work in harmony, so stretching shouldn’t be concentrated solely on the foot itself. The sympathetic tendons and muscles that move the foot should also be stretched and gently exercised to ensure the best results for your heel stretches.

Take the time to stretch thighs, calves and ankles to encourage healthy blood flow and relaxed muscle tension that will keep pain to a minimum. If ice is recommended by a doctor, try freezing a half bottle of water and slowly rolling your bare foot back and forth over it for as long as is comfortable. The use of elastic or canvas straps to facilitate stretching of an extended leg can also be helpful when stretching without an assistant handy.

Once cleared by a doctor, a daily regimen of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication like Naproxen Sodium will keep pain at bay and increase flexibility in those afflicted by heel pain. While this medication is not intended to act as a substitute for medical assessments, orthopedics or stretching, it can nonetheless be helpful in keeping discomfort muted enough to enjoy daily life.

When taking any medication for your heel pain, be sure to follow directions regarding food and drink, and ask your pharmacist about possible interactions with existing medications or frequent activities.

What to Expect with Heel Pain

When consulting a doctor about heel pain, a patient can expect to be questioned about their level of pain, how long they’ve been experiencing it, and which activities aggravate or alleviate the condition. The doctor may order x-rays, a physical therapy regimen, or refer the afflicted individual to an orthopedic specialist for further examination.

The doctor may attempt to recreate conditions that cause the heel pain to flare up in order to study reaction and cause in the patient, but this will be temporary and the doctor will stop this test at the request of the patient. A patient with heel pain may also be fitted with special inserts for their shoes to help correct arch and heel problems that cause pain.

Heel problems can range from the mildly irritating to the nearly devastating, but proper prevention in care will help keep each step pain free. Advanced orthopedics, pain management, and technologically-honed surgical techniques ensure that no patient needs to suffer with the discomfort of heel pain and the restrictions it imposes on an active lifestyle.