Heel Pain is Common, Treatable
Do your heels hurt? You are not alone. According to surgeons who specialize in foot and ankle problems, heel pain is the most common reason people seek care for their feet. Experts attending the 68th Annual Scientific Conference of the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons in Las Vegas say the best defense against heel pain is early treatment.
According to the Plantar Fasciitis Organization, heel pain affects nearly 2 million Americans each year and can cause mild or even debilitating pain. Plantar fasciitis occurs when the long fibrous plantar fascia ligament that runs along the bottom of the foot between the heel bone and toes develops tears. This ligament stretches with every step, thus tears in the tissue result in inflammation and pain.
A condition that often develops along with plantar fasciitis, although it can occur alone as well, is a heel spur, a bony growth that extends from the heel bone and digs into the heel. Heel pain that is felt behind the heel may be Achilles tendonitis which, like plantar fasciitis, involves inflammation and tears, but it occurs in the Achilles tendon that runs vertically from the heel along the ankle. Arthritis can also cause heel pain.
For most people with plantar fasciitis, their complaint is a burning, aching, or stabbing pain in the heel. The pain is usually most severe in the morning because the fascia ligament tightens up during the night, and pressure placed on the foot when people step out of bed causes the ligament to become taut. Although the pain usually decreases as the tissue warms up, it often returns after long periods of standing, weight bearing, or physical activity.
Michelle Butterworth, DPM, FACFAS, a foot and ankle surgeon from South Carolina and a Conference speaker notes that some other causes of heel pain include “starting a repetitive activity, such as a new exercise routine, without proper shoes can put a lot of stress and strain on the ligaments in the foot, resulting in inflammation and pain.” Athletes are especially prone to plantar fasciitis.
Ignoring heel pain only makes it worse, therefore treatment should begin as soon as possible to prevent further damage. Initial treatment may include rest, applying ice, massage, taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications, and stretching the ligament regularly. Some individuals turn to orthotics or night splints. Surgery is rarely necessary.
Dr. Butterworth adds that the vast majority of people with heel pain who seek early treatment with conservative therapies get relief. She also notes that for the small percentage of people who require more aggressive treatment, “new surgical techniques available now allow surgeons to easily eliminate or reduce pain with faster recovery times for patients.”
American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons
Plantar Fasciitis Organization