Heel pain can be a debilitating condition. Anyone who has ever experienced sharp, stabbing sensation in the area down by the heel bone knows how difficult it can be to enjoy activities (or sometimes even to walk) when feet are in pain.
There are many different problems responsible for this potentially chronic condition, with the most common being plantar fasciitis. We will discuss this particular condition, but make sure you come see us at Advanced Foot and Ankle if you are experiencing heel pain so we can provide a proper diagnosis and effective treatment plan.
Irritated Heel Ligaments
Plantar fasciitis develops when the plantar fascia—a tough band of tissue stretching from the toes and attaching to the heel bone—becomes irritated and inflamed. The plantar fascia is an important structure in your foot. It helps maintain the shape of the foot arch, while also stretching slightly when you walk or run to assist the entire foot in absorbing the physical shock from each step.
Absorbing all of those forces over time can take a toll on the plantar fascia. Overuse aggravates the connective tissue and irritates it. Biomechanical issues like unusually high arches (cavus foot) and flat feet can also stress it. Slowly, the tissue will begin to swell, thicken, and become inflamed, eventually creating an increased pain in your heel. The discomfort can even extend forward into the arch.
Typically, the pain is strongest following extend periods spent off your feet, like after sitting for a while or especially following a night’s sleep. The irritated plantar fascia swells and tightens during periods of rest. The tissue is then forced to suddenly stretch upon standing or walking, thereby creating painful micro-tears in the fascia band.
Know Your Risks
Plantar fasciitis is a progressive condition affecting thousands of individuals every year. Anyone can develop this injury, although people with flat feet, high arches, or who spend a lot of time standing at work have a heightened risk. It also becomes more likely the older someone becomes. Age weakens foot mechanics and tissues, and people are more likely to gain weight over time (which can strain the lower limbs). Certain exercises also increase the likelihood of a plantar fascia becoming overworked, with long distance running and dancing being examples. Ill-fitting shoes can contribute to plantar fasciitis, too.
The good news is there are various ways to care for the condition. It is sometimes difficult to manage, but generally easier to treat the sooner you deal with it. For most patients, conservative treatment options are enough to alleviate the discomfort and allow you to continue your activities (possibly with some modifications). Ignoring the heel pain and not treating the condition, though, can potentially result in a chronic condition that is quite difficult to manage.
Eliminating the Heel Pain
When you come see us, Dr. Matt Wettstein and our staff will assess the condition by carefully examining your feet and establishing an accurate diagnosis. As noted earlier, there are many different causes behind heel pain and it is important to understand which one is actually present. This will enable us to provide the correct treatment to effectively address the issue. On certain occasions, we may need to use diagnostic testing to determine a true root cause.
Having established the issue, we will attempt to relieve the discomfort by relaxing the tightened, swollen fascia band. Stretching, exercises, and other physical therapy practices may be used to achieve this. Medication and icing regimens for the bottom of the heel can reduce inflammation and help with pain management. In some cases, direct injections are recommended. You might need to take time away from high-impact activities to allow the tissue to better recover.
Changes in footwear can also be rather beneficial. Models that feature ample arch support and cushioned soles are best. In addition to footwear, we may need to prescribe an orthotic device to further help the situation by correcting biomechanical issues.
It is quite rare that surgery would be used for this condition, but an injury unresponsive to conservative care may need surgical intervention.
Don’t wait for plantar fasciitis to get better on its own (it won’t…)! Instead, come find the care you need here at Advanced Foot and Ankle. We have offices in both Twin Falls and Burley, ID, so call us at (208) 731-6321 for additional information or to schedule an appointment. You can also request a visit with Dr. Wettstein online today!