Heel pain is a common foot condition. It's usually felt as an intense pain when using the affected heel. Heel pain usually builds up gradually and gets worse over time. The pain is often severe and
occurs when you place weight on the heel. In most cases, only one heel is affected, although estimates suggest that around a third of people have pain in both heels. The pain is usually worse first
thing in the morning, or when you first take a step after a period of inactivity. Walking usually improves the pain, but it often gets worse again after walking or standing for a long time. Some
people may limp or develop an abnormal walking style as they try to avoid placing weight on the affected heel.
The plantar fascia can also become aggravated by repetitive activity. If you increase the number of times the heel hits the ground, that can cause plantar fasciitis, a number of people develop
problems when their feet are unaccustomed to hard tile or wood floors. Other risk factors for plantar fasciitis include obesity, an extra high or low foot arch, and activities like running.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the bottom of your foot, especially at the front or centre of the heel bone, pain that is worse when first rising in the morning (called "first-step
pain"), when first standing up after any long period of sitting, or after increased levels of activity especially in non-supportive shoes. Seek medical advice about plantar fasciitis if you have heel
pain or pain in the bottom of your foot, especially when you get up in the morning, that does not respond to treatment or if there is redness or bruising in the heel.
If you see a doctor for heel pain, he or she will first ask questions about where you feel the pain. If plantar fasciitis is suspected, the doctor will ask about what activities you've been doing
that might be putting you at risk. The doctor will also examine your foot by pressing on it or asking you to flex it to see if that makes the pain worse. If something else might be causing the pain,
like a heel spur or a bone fracture, the doctor may order an X-ray to take a look at the bones of your feet. In rare cases, if heel pain doesn't respond to regular treatments, the doctor also might
order an MRI scan of your foot. The good news about plantar fasciitis is that it usually goes away after a few months if you do a few simple things like stretching exercises and cutting back on
activities that might have caused the problem. Taking over-the-counter medicines can help with pain. It's rare that people need surgery for plantar fasciitis. Doctors only do surgery as a last resort
if nothing else eases the pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your GP or podiatrist may advise you to change your footwear. You should avoid wearing flat-soled shoes, because they will not provide your heel with support and could make your heel pain worse.
Ideally, you should wear shoes that cushion your heels and provide a good level of support to the arches of your feet. For women wearing high heels, and for men wearing heeled boots or brogues, can
provide short- to medium-term pain relief, as they help reduce pressure on the heels. However, these types of shoes may not be suitable in the long term, because they can lead to further episodes of
heel pain. Your GP or podiatrist can advise on footwear. Orthoses are insoles that fit inside your shoe to support your foot and help your heel recover. You can buy orthoses off-the-shelf from sports
shops and larger pharmacies. Alternatively, your podiatrist should be able to recommend a supplier. If your pain does not respond to treatment and keeps recurring, or if you have an abnormal foot
shape or structure, custom-made orthoses are available. These are specifically made to fit the shape of your feet. However, there is currently no evidence to suggest that custom-made orthoses are
more effective than those bought off-the-shelf. An alternative to using orthoses is to have your heel strapped with sports strapping (zinc oxide) tape, which helps relieve pressure on your heel. Your
GP or podiatrist can teach you how to apply the tape yourself. In some cases, night splints can also be useful. Most people sleep with their toes pointing down, which means tissue inside the heel is
squeezed together. Night splints, which look like boots, are designed to keep your toes and feet pointing up while you are asleep. This will stretch both your Achilles tendon and your plantar fascia,
which should help speed up your recovery time. Night splints are usually only available from specialist shops and online retailers. Again, your podiatrist should be able to recommend a supplier. If
treatment hasn't helped relieve your painful symptoms, your GP may recommend corticosteroid injections. Corticosteroids are a type of medication that have a powerful anti-inflammatory effect. They
have to be used sparingly because overuse can cause serious side effects, such as weight gain and high blood pressure (hypertension). As a result, it is usually recommended that no more than three
corticosteroid injections are given within a year in any part of the body. Before having a corticosteroid injection, a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your foot so you don't feel any
The majority of patients, about 90%, will respond to appropriate non-operative treatment measures over a period of 3-6 months. Surgery is a treatment option for patients with persistent symptoms, but
is NOT recommended unless a patient has failed a minimum of 6-9 months of appropriate non-operative treatment. There are a number of reasons why surgery is not immediately entertained including.
Non-operative treatment when performed appropriately has a high rate of success. Recovery from any foot surgery often takes longer than patients expect. Complications following this type of surgery
can and DO occur! The surgery often does not fully address the underlying reason why the condition occurred therefore the surgery may not be completely effective. Prior to surgical intervention, it
is important that the treating physician ensure that the correct diagnosis has been made. This seems self-evident, but there are other potential causes of heel pain. Surgical intervention may include
extracorporeal shock wave therapy or endoscopic or open partial plantar fasciectomy.
There are certain things that you can do to try to prevent plantar fasciitis, especially if you have had it before. These include regularly changing training shoes used for running or walking.
Wearing shoes with good cushioning in the heels and good arch support. Losing weight if you are overweight. Regularly stretching the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon, especially before exercise.
Avoiding exercising on hard surfaces.