Heel pain is often the result of a heel spur, which is a bone growth on the heel bone. Heel spurs are usually located on the underside of the heel bone where it attaches to the plantar fascia, a long band of connective tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot. This connective tissue holds the arch together and acts as a shock absorber during activity. If the plantar fascia is over-stretched from running, wearing poor-fitting shoes or being overweight, pain can result from the stress and inflammation of the tissue pulling on the bone. Over time, the body builds extra bone in response to this stress resulting in heel spurs.
While heel pain has many causes, it is usually the result of poor biomechanics (abnormalities in the way we walk). This can place too much stress on the heel bone and the soft tissues attached to it. The stress may result from injury, or a bruise incurred while walking, running or jumping on hard surfaces: wearing poorly constructed footwear or being significantly over weight. Systemic diseases such as arthritis can also contribute to heel pain.
Pain in the bottom of the heel is the most common symptom. The pain is often described as a knife-like, pinpoint pain that is worse in the morning and generally improves throughout the day. By the end of the day the pain may be replaced by a dull ache that improves with rest. The pain results from stretching the damaged tissues. For the same reason atheletes' pain occurs during beginning stages of exercise and is relieved over time as warm-up loosens the fascia. Plantar fasciitis onset is usually gradual, only flaring up during exercise. If pain is ignored, it can eventually interfere with walking and overall, plantar fasciitis accounts for about ten percent of all running injuries.
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 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.
Only a relatively few cases of heel pain require surgery. If required, surgery is usually for the removal of a spur, but also may involve release of the plantar fascia, removal of a bursa, or a removal of a neuroma or other soft-tissue growth.
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Being overweight can place excess pressure and strain on your feet, particularly on your heels. Losing weight, and maintaining a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy, balanced diet, can be beneficial for your feet. Wearing appropriate footwear is also important. Ideally, you should wear shoes with a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes with no heels.