The function of the heel in walking is to absorb the shock of your foot striking the ground as it is put down and to start springing you forward on the next step. It contains a strong bone (the calcaneum). Under the bone are a large number of small pockets of fat in strong elastic linings, which absorb much of the shock (fat pads). The heel is attached to the front of the foot by a number of strong ligaments which run between the front part of the calcaneum and various other parts of the foot. The strongest ligament is the plantar fascia, which attaches the heel to the toes and helps to balance the various parts of the foot as you walk. It therefore takes a lot of stress as you walk. In some people the plantar fascia becomes painful and inflamed. This usually happens where it is attached to the heel bone, although sometimes it happens in the mid-part of the foot. This condition is called plantar fasciitis.
While heel pain has many causes, it is usually the result of faulty 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 also result from injury, or a bruise incurred while walking, running or jumping on hard surfaces; wearing poorly constructed footwear; or being significantly overweight. Systemic diseases such as arthritis and diabetes can also contribute to heel pain. A common cause of heel pain is the heel spur, a bony growth under the heel bone. There are no visible features on the heel, but a deep painful spot can be found in or around the middle of the sole of the heel (see diagram). Approximately 10 per cent of the population may have heel spurs without any pain. Heel spurs result from strain on the muscles of the foot. This may result from biomechanical imbalance, a condition occurring in many people. Both heel pain and heel spurs are frequently associated with an inflammation of the long band of tissue that connects the heel and the ball of the foot. The inflammation of this arch area is called plantar fasciitis. The inflammation may be aggravated by shoes that lack appropriate support, especially in the arch area, and by the chronic irritation that sometimes accompanies an athletic lifestyle.Excessive rolling in of the feet when walking. An inflamed bursa (bursitis), a small, irritated sack of fluid at the back of the heel. A neuroma (a nerve growth). Other soft-tissue growths. Heel bumps or ?pump bumps?, a bone enlargement at the back of the heel bone. Bruises or stress fractures to the heel bone.
Common symptoms, heel Spurs: the pain is usually worst on standing, particularly first thing in the morning when you get up. It is relatively common, though usually occurring in the over forty's age group. There are no visible features on the heel but a deep localised painful spot can be found in or around the middle of the sole of the heel. Although it is often associated with a spur of bone sticking out of the heel bone (heel spur syndrome), approximately ten per cent of the population have heel spurs without any pain. Heel Bursitis, pain can be felt at the back of the heel when the ankle joint is moved and there may be a swelling on both sides of the Achilles tendon. Or you may feel pain deep inside the heel when it makes contact with the ground. Heel Bumps, recognised as firm bumps on the back of the heel , they are often rubbed by shoes causing pain.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.
Non Surgical Treatment
Rest until there is no more pain. This is the most important element of treatment as continuing to walk or run on the injured foot will not allow the injury to heal. Wear soft trainers with lots of cushioning or pad the heel of shoes with shock absorbing insoles or heel pads. These should be worn in both shoes, even if only one heel is bruised. Wearing a raise in only one shoe causes a leg length difference which can cause other problems. Replace running shoes if they are old. A running shoe is designed to last for around 400 miles of running. After this the mid soles are weakened through use.
It is rare to need an operation for heel pain. It would only be offered if all simpler treatments have failed and, in particular, you are a reasonable weight for your height and the stresses on your heel cannot be improved by modifying your activities or footwear. The aim of an operation is to release part of the plantar fascia from the heel bone and reduce the tension in it. Many surgeons would also explore and free the small nerves on the inner side of your heel as these are sometimes trapped by bands of tight tissue. This sort of surgery can be done through a cut about 3cm long on the inner side of your heel. Recently there has been a lot of interest in doing the operation by keyhole surgery, but this has not yet been proven to be effective and safe. Most people who have an operation are better afterwards, but it can take months to get the benefit of the operation and the wound can take a while to heal fully. Tingling or numbness on the side of the heel may occur after operation.
You can try to avoid the things that cause heel pain to start avoid becoming overweight, where your job allows, minimise the shock to your feet from constant pounding on hard surfaces, reduce the shocks on your heel by choosing footwear with some padding or shock-absorbing material in the heel, if you have high-arched feet or flat feet a moulded insole in your shoe may reduce the stresses on your feet, if you have an injury to your ankle or foot, make sure you exercise afterwards to get back as much movement as possible to reduce the stresses on your foot and your heel in particular, If you start to get heel pain, doing the above things may enable the natural healing process to get underway and the pain to improve.