Heel pain is a problem for many people. It makes standing and even walking around for long periods of time very uncomfortable. Several different conditions can lead to uncomfortable heels, but the most common culprit is plantar fasciitis. This is the inflammation and swelling of the plantar fascia, a tendon that runs along the sole of your foot and attaches to the bottom of the calcaneus, or heel bone. Repeated hard impacts or strain from overuse causes micro-tears to develop in the tendon, irritating it. The minor damage compounds over time and causes the tissue to swell and tighten, painfully pulling on the heel bone.Causes
As stated above, if biomechanical complaints such as over pronation exist during running then this can lead to planter fascitis and heel pain. Over pronation occurs when there is excessive mobility in the sab-taler joint of the foot which causes hyper mobility of the foot. Conditions such as flat feet can also cause over pronation. This increased mobility adversely affects all the muscles in the foot and can even affect the lower leg, upper leg and cause back pain. The mechanical imbalance is highlighted during running due to the increased forces being applied to the body Runners often complain that the pain increases when they enter the toe off phase of the running cycle as this stretches the muscle away from the heel bone. Apart from over pronation, other causes of planter fascitis are a change of running shoes, dramatic increases in speed work, hill work and mileage.Symptoms
Usually worse with the first few steps in the morning or at the initial point of activity. The latter usually gets better with continued activity (squeaky hinge analogy). Walking, running, sprinting, hill running and jumping will increase the pain. Often, the natural response is to walk on the outside of the foot - in supination - to lessen the stress on the plantar fascia - resulting in new problems.Diagnosis
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history and symptoms, such as have you had this type of heel pain before? When did your pain begin? Do you have pain upon your first steps in the morning or after your first steps after rest? Is the pain dull and aching or sharp and stabbing? Is it worse after exercise? Is it worse when standing? Did you fall or twist your ankle recently? Are you a runner? If so, how far and How do you get taller? often do you run? Do you walk or stand for long periods of time? What kind of shoes do you wear? Do you have any other symptoms? Your doctor may order a foot x-ray. You may need to see a physical therapist to learn exercises to stretch and strengthen your foot. Your doctor may recommend a night splint to help stretch your foot. Surgery may be recommended in some cases.Non Surgical Treatment
If you have experienced painful heels try wearing your shoes around your house in the evening. Don't wear slippers or socks or go barefoot. You may also try gentle calf stretches for 20 to 30 seconds on each leg. This is best done barefoot, leaning forward towards a wall with one foot forward and one foot back. If the pain persists longer than one month, you should visit a podiatrist for evaluation and treatment. Your feet should not hurt, and professional podiatric care may be required to help relieve your discomfort. If you have not exercised in a long time, consult your podiatric physician before starting a new exercise program. Begin an exercise program slowly. Don't go too far or too fast. Purchase and maintain good shoes and replace them regularly. Stretch each foot and achilles tendon before and after exercise. Avoid uneven walking surfaces or stepping on rocks as much as possible. Avoid going barefoot on hard surfaces. Vary the incline on a treadmill during exercise. Nobody walks uphill all the time. If it hurts, stop. Don't try to "work through the pain." Your podiatric physician/surgeon has been trained specifically and extensively in the diagnosis and treatment of all manner of foot conditions. This training encompasses all of the intricately related systems and structures of the foot and lower leg including neurological, circulatory, skin, and the musculoskeletal system, which includes bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves.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.Prevention
Before you get out of bed in the morning, and then periodically throughout the day, do the following exercises to increase flexibility and ease pain. Slowly flex your foot and toes to stretch the tissue on the bottom of your sore foot. Hold the stretch for 10 counts. Relax and repeat. Do gentle ankle rolls to keep the tissues around the ankle and on the back of the heel flexible. Sit on the edge of your bed and roll your foot back and forth over a tennis ball.