Heel pain is among the most common foot problems. This pain can manifest in different degrees from mild discomfort to excruciating pain depending on the severity of the condition. The location of the pain also determines the exact condition. When the pain is under the heel, the condition is referred to as Plantar Fasciitis, when it is just behind the heel; it is known as Achilles tendonitis.
Heel pain can sometimes be severe and disabling, though it can be treated. In most cases, mild heel pain disappears on its own, although there are reported cases of chronic pain that persists for a long time. Sometimes this pain is caused by mechanical issues that stress the muscles, tendons and bones when going about daily duties. Heel pain can also be caused by other problems such as trauma, neurological issues, arthritis and systemic issues.
Plantar fasciitis a Latin term is used for inflammation of plantar fascia. The fascia is a thick fibrous ligament that connects the toes to the heel bone, forming an arch on the foot’s sole and acts as a natural shock absorber. Unlike muscles, this ligament is not very elastic: its elongation and stretching capacity is limited. When too much stress is placed on this ligament and its capacity exceeded, irritation, micro tearing and inflammation occurs which results in pain.
Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms
Anything from mild discomfort to severe pain can indicate the inflammation of the fascia ligament, as well as other foot injuries. Therefore, in an attempt to differentiate plantar fasciitis from other foot injuries, here are a few symptoms to look out for. These include;
Pain in the heel bottom
Pain in the foot arch
Pain that is worse in the morning or after a resting period
Pain that increases gradually over time
Pain that is accompanied by swelling at the heel bottom
In most cases, people with plantar fasciitis complain of severe pain after a period of rest, which decreases in the course of the day when the foot is stretched in the course of daily activities only to return after another period of rest.
Plantar Fascia Diagnosis
Since many symptoms can be easily confused, it is important to have a professional diagnosis done. If you are experiencing pain or discomfort, it is time to see a podiatrist to get physical tests done. The podiatrist will ask such questions as how long you walk/stand/run, any recent injuries, the kind of shoes you wear, medical history etc to help establish the cause of the pain/discomfort. Diagnostic tests will also include physical examination, imaging scans and blood tests.
There are a myriad of treatment options designed to alleviate the pain and discomfort as well as help recover from the strain caused on the ligament. Severe fasciitis can be treated with more advanced options such as surgery. However, in most cases, heel pain can be treated through conservative means (those that do not include radical therapeutic or operative procedures)
Non surgical first line treatment strategies include the following:
Always wear comfortable shoes
Use ice-packs on the affected area
Cut down on physical activities
Medications to alleviate inflammation
Shoe modifications; strapping, taping, padding, orthotics
How Orthotics Help Relieve Plantar Fasciitis
Foot orthotics are simple corrective devices that are meant to correct foot biomechanical problems that may result in pain and inflammation of the heels, feet, ankles, back and pelvis problems. These devices come in various forms; some are spongy, gel heels, soft footrests, rubber foot beds etc. While rubber and gel foot beds cushion the heels, they do not help with biomechanical correction. If anything, if the wrong device is used, it can worsen foot biomechanics. Therefore, before you use any orthotic device to save yourself from plantar fasciitis, it is advisable to see a professional and get a diagnosis for a device that is specific to your foot pattern. If your daily activities exert too much pressure on the feet, you may need extra arch support provided by custom orthotics.
How Foot Orthotics Work
Foot orthotics simply offers additional support to the foot arch (the fascia ligament) which alleviates stress and reduces inflammation. The orthotics also help in realigning the lower legs and the ankles. Most people’s arches look normal when standing or sitting; however, upon putting weight on the feet, the arches are stretched beyond their limit and become painful.
Foot orthotics are either off-the-shelf or custom made. Effective orthotics need not be expensive; you only need them tailored to your feet biomechanics. Studies have shown that orthotics not only treat heel and foot pain, they also correct any biomechanical problem that can cause pain and discomfort in the ankles, legs, and back as well.