Pain in the heel can be caused by many things. The commonest cause is plantar fasciitis (which will be discussed more in the next section). Other causes include, being overweight, constantly being on your feet, especially on a hard surface like concrete and wearing hard-soled footwear, thinning or weakness of the fat pads of the heel, injury to the bones or padding of the heel, arthritis in the ankle or heel (subtalar) joint, irritation of the nerves on the inner or outer sides of the heel, fracture of the heel bone (calcaneum).
The most common cause of heel pain in adults is plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the band of tissue in the sole that connects the heel to the toes and forms the natural foot arch. Plantar fasciitis may or may not be complicated by a calcaneal spur, a small bone growth that protrudes out of the heel. Plantar fasciitis may also be referred to as plantar fasciosis. In contrast to fasciitis, which essentially means inflammation, fasciosis refers to degeneration of the tissue. In fact, if left untreated, acute plantar fasciitis may develop into a chronic painful condition, which results in slow and irreversible degeneration of the fascia, hence plantar fasciosis. The location of the pain is usually exactly under the heel but may also occur in the arch of the foot. Pain typical to plantar fasciitis is that which feels worse when arising on to your feet such as in mornings or after sitting down for a while, and usually progresses in severity when left untreated.
Plantar fasciitis is a condition of irritation to the plantar fascia, the thick ligament on the bottom of your foot. It classically causes pain and stiffness on the bottom of your heel and feels worse in the morning with the first steps out of bed and also in the beginning of an activity after a period of rest. For instance, after driving a car, people feel pain when they first get out, or runners will feel discomfort for the first few minutes of their run. This occurs because the plantar fascia is not well supplied by blood, which makes this condition slow in healing, and a certain amount of activity is needed to get the area to warm up. Plantar fasciitis can occur for various reasons: use of improper, non-supportive shoes; over-training in sports; lack of flexibility; weight gain; prolonged standing; and, interestingly, prolonged bed rest.
A podiatrist (doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of foot diseases) will carry out a physical examination, and ask pertinent questions about the pain. The doctor will also ask the patient how much walking and standing the patient does, what type of footwear is worn, and details of the his/her medical history. Often this is enough to make a diagnosis. Sometimes further diagnostic tests are needed, such as blood tests and imaging scans.
Non Surgical Treatment
Curing posterior heel pain requires calming the inflammation, resting the foot and increasing calf flexibility. Ice therapy and anti-inflammatory medications can be used to reduce the inflammation. Stopping exercises that stress the calf and Achilles is important. This includes walking, running and the use of stair climbers and elliptical machines. Placing a heel lift in each shoe can reduce some of the excess strain on the back of the heel. Stretching exercises to increase calf flexibility are important in curing this problem and preventing its recurrence. Wearing running shoes also provides good foot support and helps with this condition. Sometimes a walking boot is used to immobilize the ankle and let the area completely rest. Physical therapy is sometimes ordered to help reduce the inflammation and pain and to help improve the flexibility of the calf muscles. Occasionally these measures fail to relieve the pain and surgery may be needed. The surgical procedure involves removing bone spurs and repairing any damage to the tendon.
If treatment hasn't worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints or a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel or endoscopic or minimal incision surgery - where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team.
back of heel cushions
Wear shoes that fit well, front, back and sides and have shock-absorbent soles, rigid uppers and supportive heel counters. Do not wear shoes with excessive wear on heels or soles. Prepare properly before exercising. Warm-up before running or walking, and do some stretching exercises afterward. Pace yourself when you participate in athletic activities. If overweight, try non weight-bearing activities such as swimming or cycling. Your podiatrist may also use taping or strapping to provide extra support for your foot. Orthoses (shoe inserts) specifically made to suit your needs may be also be prescribed.