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What Causes Heel Discomfort

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Heel Discomfort

Millions of people each year suffer from heel pain. Many of those don?t understand heel pain causes and will often not seek proper heel pain treatment. Heel pain is often directly related to plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia that, when addressed early, can be easily treated.

Causes

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.

Symptoms

The primary symptom is pain in the heel area that varies in severity and location. The pain is commonly intense when getting out of bed or a chair. The pain often lessens when walking.

Diagnosis

After you have described your foot symptoms, your doctor will want to know more details about your pain, your medical history and lifestyle, including. Whether your pain is worse at specific times of the day or after specific activities. Any recent injury to the area. Your medical and orthopedic history, especially any history of diabetes, arthritis or injury to your foot or leg. Your age and occupation. Your recreational activities, including sports and exercise programs. The type of shoes you usually wear, how well they fit, and how frequently you buy a new pair. Your doctor will examine you, including. An evaluation of your gait. While you are barefoot, your doctor will ask you to stand still and to walk in order to evaluate how your foot moves as you walk. An examination of your feet. Your doctor may compare your feet for any differences between them. Then your doctor may examine your painful foot for signs of tenderness, swelling, discoloration, muscle weakness and decreased range of motion. A neurological examination. The nerves and muscles may be evaluated by checking strength, sensation and reflexes. In addition to examining you, your health care professional may want to examine your shoes. Signs of excessive wear in certain parts of a shoe can provide valuable clues to problems in the way you walk and poor bone alignment. Depending on the results of your physical examination, you may need foot X-rays or other diagnostic tests.

Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment options for plantar fasciitis include custom prescription foot orthoses (orthotics), weight loss when indicated, steroid injections and physical therapy to decrease the inflammation, night-splints and/or cast boots to splint and limit the stress on the plantar fascia. Orthotripsy (high frequency ultra-sonic shock waves) is also a new treatment option that has been shown to decrease the pain significantly in 50 to 85 percent of patients in published studies. Surgery, which can be done endoscopically, is usually not needed for over 90 percent of the cases of plantar fasciitis. (However, when surgery is needed, it is about 85 percent successful.) Patients who are overweight do not seem to benefit as much from surgery. Generally, plantar fasciitis is a condition people learn to control. There are a few conditions similar to plantar fascia in which patients should be aware. The most common is a rupture of the plantar fascia: the patient continues to exercise despite the symptoms and experiences a sudden sharp pain on the bottom of the heel and cannot stand on his or her toes, resulting in bruising in the arch. Ruptures are treated very successfully by immobilization in a cast boot for two to six weeks, a period of active rest and physical therapy. Another problem with prolonged and neglected plantar fasciitis is development of a stress fracture from the constant traction of this ligament on the heel bone. This appears more common in osteoporotic women, and is also treated with cast boot immobilization. The nerves that run along the heel occasionally become inflamed by the subsequent thickening and inflammation of the adjacent plantar fascia. These symptoms often feel like numbness and burning and usually resolve with physical therapy and injections. Patients should also be aware that heel numbness can be the first sign of a back problem.

Surgical Treatment

Surgery is a last resort in the treatment of heel pain. Physicians have developed many procedures in the last 100 years to try to cure heel pain. Most procedures that are commonly used today focus on several areas, remove the bone spur (if one is present), release the plantar fascia (plantar fasciotomy), release pressure on the small nerves in the area. Usually the procedure is done through a small incision on the inside edge of the foot, although some surgeons now perform this type of surgery using an endoscope. An endoscope is a tiny TV camera that can be inserted into a joint or under the skin to allow the surgeon to see the structures involved in the surgery. By using the endoscope, a surgeon can complete the surgery with a smaller incision and presumably less damage to normal tissues. It is unclear whether an endoscopic procedure for this condition is better than the traditional small incision. Surgery usually involves identifying the area where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel and releasing the fascia partially from the bone. If a small spur is present this is removed. The small nerves that travel under the plantar fascia are identified and released from anything that seems to be causing pressure on the nerves. This surgery can usually be done on an outpatient basis. This means you can leave the hospital the same day.

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Prevention

Feet Pain

The following steps will help prevent plantar fasciitis or help keep the condition from getting worse if you already have it. The primary treatment is rest. Cold packs application to the area for 20 minutes several times a day or after activities give some relief. Over-the-counter pain medications can help manage the pain, consult your healthcare professional. Shoes should be well cushioned, especially in the midsole area, and should have the appropriate arch support. Some will benefit from an orthotic shoe insert, such as a rubber heel pad for cushioning. Orthotics should be used in both shoes, even if only one foot hurts. Going barefoot or wearing slipper puts stress on your feet. Put on supportive shoes as soon as you get out of bed. Calf stretches and stretches using a towel (place the towel under the ball of your feet and pull gently the towel toward you and hold a few seconds) several times a day, especially when first getting up in the morning. Stretching the Achilles tendon at the back of the heel is especially important before sports, but it is helpful for nonathletes as well. Increasing your exercise levels gradually. Staying at a healthy weight. Surgery is very rarely required.

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