Painful heels are the number 4 conern bringing patients into the offices of many family doctors and the number 1 concern bringing patients to the offices of podiatric physicians (foot doctors).
Heel pain can have many causes but the vast majority is caused by plantar fasciitis. Plantar means, “bottom of the foot.” Fascia is a ligament or “bundle” of ligaments. The plantar fascia is the thick ligament that helps to hold up the foot and provide spring in our step.
Plantar fasciitis, pronoucned (PLAN-tar FASHEE-itis) is an inflammation of the plantar fascia and causes more than 90% of heel pain among adults in the US.
Plantar fasciitis can be acute, that is, as simple strain of the ligament but often is chronic, hanging on for months if not years. Why does that happen? The answer is poor foot mechanics, the foot sinking down too far alllowing the plantar fascia to overstretch with each step taken.
If the plantar fasciitis is acute, that is, a sprain of the plantar fascia then it is basically treated as a sprain, with anti-inflammatory drugs, ice, rest, possibly physical therapy. If chronic, the poor foot mechanics need be addressed.
Foot mechanics are changed by use of specially molded shoe inserts known as orthotics. Someone with plantar fasciitis needs an orhtotic designed to releive strain on the plantar fascia. Orthotics are often confused with arch supports. Arch supports, by holding up the arch can remove some of the tension from the plantar fascia. Orthotics, on the other hand, do most of their work on the heel and ball of the foot repositioning the foot for maximized function.
What can you do before you see the foot doctor? First, try doing your own version of deep tissue massage by rolling a frozen cola bottle or can from the heel forward into the arch. Do it gently. Do stretching but the key to good stretching is not to stretch too hard so generally avoid weight bearing (standing) stretches but sit on a soft surface like your bed and pull the foot backward on the leg as far as it will go, holding for 20 seconds and relaxing for 5 seconds.
Each 25 second “set” can be repeated 5 times and you have invested about 2 minutes in giving yourself a lot of help.
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Orthotics, by treating the cause of the problem, lead to the cure bette than 90% of the time. A small number of patients have waited so long that the plantar fascia has become thickened and filled with scar tissue and are not helped by “conventional” means. Those are the patients that have, traditionally, required surgical treatment in which theh plantar fascia is cut off the heel bone. Luckily, most surgery has been replaced by a relatively new mode of treatment, ESWT or Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy. ESWT involves the application of multiple shockwaves to the diseased tendon or ligament and has an approximately 85 to 90% success rate. Keep in mind we are talking about this success rate in patients who are “tough cases,” that is, already had the conventional treatment.
The ESWT machines look like miniature renal lithtripsors (kidney stone crushers). There are virtually no side effects to ESWT other than the price as only about 30% of insurance companies are paying for it. They realize that it is less costly and safer than surgery but also know that many more people who would avoud surgery would have no problem gettting ESWT so the voume of services would go up.
You don’t have to live with painful heels. For more information and a chatboard or heel pain, viist me at http://www.heel-pain.org
Eddie Davis, DPM
10116 – 116th ST. E., Suite 103
Puyallup, WA 98373