Heel pain is most often caused by plantar fasciitis, a condition that is sometimes also called heel spur syndrome when a spur is present. Heel pain may also be due to other causes, such as a stress
fracture, tendonitis, arthritis, nerve irritation, or, rarely, a cyst. Because there are several potential causes, it is important to have heel pain properly diagnosed. A foot and ankle surgeon is
able to distinguish between all the possibilities and determine the underlying source of your heel pain. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that extends
from the heel to the toes. In this condition, the fascia first becomes irritated and then inflamed, resulting in heel pain.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining the ligament that supports your arch. Repeated strain can cause tiny tears in the ligament. These can lead to pain and swelling. This is more likely to happen
if your feet roll inward too much when you walk, you have high arches or flat feet. You walk, stand, or run for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces. You are overweight. You wear shoes
that don't fit well or are worn out. You have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles.
The most common symptom is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. The heel pain may be dull or sharp. The bottom of the foot may also ache or burn. The pain is often worse in the morning when
you take your first steps, after standing or sitting for awhile, when climbing stairs, after intense activity. The pain may develop slowly over time, or come on suddenly after intense activity.
After you describe your symptoms and discuss your concerns, your doctor will examine your foot. Your doctor will look for these signs. A high arch, an area of maximum tenderness on the bottom of your
foot, just in front of your heel bone. Pain that gets worse when you flex your foot and the doctor pushes on the plantar fascia. The pain improves when you point your toes down. Limited "up" motion
of your ankle. Your doctor may order imaging tests to help make sure your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis and not another problem. X-rays provide clear images of bones. They are useful in
ruling out other causes of heel pain, such as fractures or arthritis. Heel spurs can be seen on an x-ray. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, are not
routinely used to diagnose plantar fasciitis. They are rarely ordered. An MRI scan may be used if the heel pain is not relieved by initial treatment methods.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor will determine what treatment is best for your condition. The most common treatments for plantar fasciitis include icing the affected area, inserting custom-made orthotics into your
shoes, massaging the plantar fascia, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, strengthening the foot, wearing a night splint, wearing shoes with arch support, physical
therapy, stretching the calf muscles, shockwave therapy or radiotherapy. To keep the plantar fascia lengthened as you sleep, your doctor may ask you to wear night splints. In the morning, taking your
first steps is less painful because the plantar fascia remains stretched throughout the night. Avoiding activities such as walking or running helps the healing process. Losing weight, if it is a
factor in the condition, may help to reduce the stress placed on the plantar fascia.
Most practitioners agree that treatment for plantar fasciitis is a slow process. Most cases resolve within a year. If these more conservative measures don't provide relief after this time, your
doctor may suggest other treatment. In such cases, or if your heel pain is truly debilitating and interfering with normal activity, your doctor may discuss surgical options with you. The most common
surgery for plantar fasciitis is called a plantar fascia release and involves releasing a portion of the plantar fascia from the heel bone. A plantar fascia release can be performed through a regular
incision or as endoscopic surgery, where a tiny incision allows a miniature scope to be inserted and surgery to be performed. About one in 20 patients with plantar fasciitis will need surgery. As
with any surgery, there is still some chance that you will continue to have pain afterwards.