What Is Heel Discomfort

Heel Discomfort


Overview


Plantar fasciitis is a poorly understood condition. There is little consensus among medical professionals about what causes the problem, and no treatments have been reliably proven to treat it. A number of theories exists for why plantar fasciitis develops, but the ineffectiveness of conventional treatments suggests something is missing. The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue that runs along the underside of the foot from the heel to the toes. The fascia helps maintain the integrity of the arch, provides shock absorption, and plays an important role in the normal mechanical function of the foot.






Causes


Far and away the most common cause of plantar fasciitis in an athlete is faulty biomechanics of the foot or leg. Faulty biomechanics causes the foot to sustain increased or prolonged stresses over and above those of routine ground contacts. Throughout the phase of ground contact, the foot assumes several mechanical positions to dissipate shock while at the same time placing the foot in the best position to deliver ground forces. With heel landing the foot is supinated (ankle rolled out). At mid-stance the foot is pronated (ankle rolled in). The foot is supinated again with toe-off. The supination of the foot at heel strike and toe-off makes the foot a rigid lever. At heel strike the shock of ground contact is transferred to the powerful quads. During toe-off forward motion is created by contraction of the gastroc complex plantar flexing the rigid lever of the foot pushing the body forward.






Symptoms


Plantar fasciitis and heel spur pain usually begins in the bottom of the heel, and frequently radiates into the arch. At times, however, the pain may be felt only in the arch. The pain is most intense when first standing, after any period of rest. Most people with this problem experience their greatest pain in the morning, with the first few steps after sleeping. After several minutes of walking, the pain usually becomes less intense and may disappear completely, only to return later with prolonged walking or standing. If a nerve is irritated due to the swollen plantar fascia, this pain may radiate into the ankle. In the early stages of Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spurs, the pain will usually subside quickly with getting off of the foot and resting. As the disease progresses, it may take longer periods of time for the pain to subside.






Diagnosis


The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show tenderness on the bottom of your foot, flat feet or high arches, mild foot swelling or redness, stiffness or tightness of the arch in the bottom of your foot. X-rays may be taken to rule out other problems.






Non Surgical Treatment


Orthotics are corrective foot devices. They are not the same as soft, spongy, rubber footbeds, gel heel cups etc. Gel and rubber footbeds may cushion the heels and feet, but they do not provide any biomechanical correction. In fact, gel can do the opposite and make an incorrect walking pattern even more unstable! Orthotic insoles work by supporting the arches while re-aligning the ankles and lower legs. Most people’s arches look quite normal when sitting or even standing. However, when putting weight on the foot the arches lower, placing added tension on the plantar fascia, leading to inflammation at the heel bone. Orthotics support the arches, which reduces the tension and overwork of the plantar fascia, allowing the inflamed tissue to heal. Orthotics needn’t be expensive, custom-made devices. A comprehensive Heel Pain study by the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society found that by wearing standard orthotics and doing a number of daily exercises, 95% of patients experienced substantial, lasting relief from their heel pain symptoms.


Pain At The Heel






Surgical Treatment


Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.






Stretching Exercises


You may begin exercising the muscles of your foot right away by gently stretching them as follows. Prone hip extension, Lie on your stomach with your legs straight out behind you. Tighten up your buttocks muscles and lift one leg off the floor about 8 inches. Keep your knee straight. Hold for 5 seconds. Then lower your leg and relax. Do 3 sets of 10. Towel stretch, Sit on a hard surface with one leg stretched out in front of you. Loop a towel around your toes and the ball of your foot and pull the towel toward your body keeping your knee straight. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds then relax. Repeat 3 times. When the towel stretch becomes too easy, you may begin doing the standing calf stretch. Standing calf stretch, Facing a wall, put your hands against the wall at about eye level. Keep one leg back with the heel on the floor, and the other leg forward. Turn your back foot slightly inward (as if you were pigeon-toed) as you slowly lean into the wall until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times. Do this exercise several times each day. Sitting plantar fascia stretch, Sit in a chair and cross one foot over your other knee. Grab the base of your toes and pull them back toward your leg until you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold 15 seconds and repeat 3 times. When you can stand comfortably on your injured foot, you can begin standing to stretch the bottom of your foot using the plantar fascia stretch. Achilles stretch, Stand with the ball of one foot on a stair. Reach for the bottom step with your heel until you feel a stretch in the arch of your foot. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds and then relax. Repeat 3 times. After you have stretched the bottom muscles of your foot, you can begin strengthening the top muscles of your foot. Frozen can roll, Roll your bare injured foot back and forth from your heel to your mid-arch over a frozen juice can. Repeat for 3 to 5 minutes. This exercise is particularly helpful if done first thing in the morning. Towel pickup, With your heel on the ground, pick up a towel with your toes. Release. Repeat 10 to 20 times. When this gets easy, add more resistance by placing a book or small weight on the towel. Balance and reach exercises, Stand upright next to a chair. This will provide you with balance if needed. Stand on the foot farthest from the chair. Try to raise the arch of your foot while keeping your toes on the floor. Keep your foot in this position and reach forward in front of you with your hand farthest away from the chair, allowing your knee to bend. Repeat this 10 times while maintaining the arch height. This exercise can be made more difficult by reaching farther in front of you. Do 2 sets. Stand in the same position as above. While maintaining your arch height, reach the hand farthest away from the chair across your body toward the chair. The farther you reach, the more challenging the exercise. Do 2 sets of 10. Heel raise, Balance yourself while standing behind a chair or counter. Using the chair to help you, raise your body up onto your toes and hold for 5 seconds. Then slowly lower yourself down without holding onto the chair. Hold onto the chair or counter if you need to. When this exercise becomes less painful, try lowering on one leg only. Repeat 10 times. Do 3 sets of 10. Side-lying leg lift, Lying on your side, tighten the front thigh muscles on your top leg and lift that leg 8 to 10 inches away from the other leg. Keep the leg straight. Do 3 sets of 10.

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