A Simple Guide to Planter Fascilitis and other Heel Diseases (A Simple Guide to Medical Conditions)

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A visual survey of the foot may reveal swelling, bony deformities, bruising, or skin breaks. The physician should palpate bony prominences and tendinous insertions near the heel and midfoot, noting any tenderness or palpable defects. Passive range of motion of the foot and ankle joints should be assessed for indications of restricted movement. Foot posture and arch formation should be visually examined while the patient is bearing weight; the physician is looking for abnormal pronation or other biomechanical irregularities.

Observation of the foot while the patient is walking may allow the physician to identify gait abnormalities that provide further diagnostic clues. This article details specific maneuvers that may reproduce pain symptoms and help physicians identify particular causes of heel pain. The plantar fascia is a multilayered, fibrous aponeurosis with three portions—medial, central, and lateral.

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This fascia attaches to the three main weight-bearing points of the foot i. Conditions that increase tension on the plantar fascia and may cause pain include pes planus, pes cavus, decreased subtalar joint mobility, and a tight Achilles tendon. Plantar fasciitis, the most common cause of heel pain in adults, typically results from repetitive use or excessive load on the fascia. Tenderness over the medial aspect of the calcaneal tuberosity usually is demonstrated, and the pain increases when the plantar fascia is stretched by passive dorsiflexion of the toes. Acute onset of severe plantar heel pain after trauma or vigorous athletics may indicate rupture of the plantar fascia.

Findings suggestive of rupture include a palpable defect at the calcaneal tuberosity accompanied by localized swelling and ecchymosis.


If conservative treatment of plantar fasciitis fails to alleviate symptoms, radiographs are advisable to check for other causes of heel pain such as stress fractures, arthritis, or skeletal abnormalities. Radiographs may reveal a calcification of the proximal plantar fascia, which is known as a heel spur. However, these spurs often are present in asymptomatic persons, are nonspecific, and should not be construed as an explanation for heel pain. Patients who have tendonitis generally present with pain and swelling at the tendon insertion site. Passive dorsiflexion of the foot and palpation at the insertion site may increase the tenderness.

The Achilles tendon is formed by the union of the gastrocnemius and soleus muscle tendons and inserts on the posterior aspect of the calcaneus. Achilles tendonitis is another common cause of posterior heel pain.

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Typically, it results from overuse of the calf muscles e. The tendons of the posterior tibialis, the flexor digitorum longus, and the flexor hallucis longus pass through the medial flexor retinaculum and insert on the medial side of the midfoot Figure 1. The peroneal tendons insert on the lateral side of the midfoot. Tendonitis involving these structures is a less common cause of heel pain but may be important when a patient localizes a medial or lateral location of heel pain.

Medial view of the ankle illustrating the tendons, bursa, and nerves, which can be sources of heel pain. The posterior heel includes the retrocalcaneal bursa, which is located between the calcaneus and the Achilles tendon insertion site, and the retroachilles bursa, which is located between the Achilles tendon and the skin. Each bursa is a potential site of inflammation. The most common cause of posterior heel bursitis is ill-fitting footwear with a stiff posterior edge that abrades the area of the Achilles tendon insertion.

Patients with posterior heel bursitis have redness and swelling of the affected bursa, which is tender on direct palpation. After the metatarsals, the calcaneus is the most common location in the foot for a stress fracture. Patients present with diffuse heel pain and tenderness on medial and lateral compression of the calcaneus. Refractory heel pain that persists despite conservative treatment may require further diagnostic procedures to exclude bony pathology.

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Radionuclide bone scans and magnetic resonance imaging MRI are more effective than plain-film radiographs in confirming a calcaneal stress fracture. Both methods detect stress fractures several weeks earlier than plain-film radiographs, and MRI permits visualization of abnormal soft tissue structures that may indicate other causes of heel pain. Calcaneal stress fractures are treated by cutting back on the quantity and intensity of walking and athletic activities.

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Non—weight-bearing status with crutches or cast immobilization may be necessary in some refractory cases. Simple bone cysts within the calcaneus generally are not associated with pain, although they may weaken the calcaneal structure. A pathologic fracture that extends to the wall of a bone cyst may induce heel pain.

The tarsal tunnel, which is located on the medial aspect of the posterior heel, is bounded by the flexor retinaculum and the medial surfaces of the talus and calcaneus. The posterior tibial nerve courses through this tunnel and divides into its terminal branches, the medial and lateral plantar nerves Figure 2. Heel pain accompanied by neuropathic features such as tingling, burning, or numbness may indicate tarsal tunnel syndrome, a compression neuropathy caused by entrapment of the posterior tibial nerve branches within the tunnel.

Pain and numbness often radiate to the plantar heel and, in some cases, extend even to the distal sole and toes. Medial view of the ankle illustrating the course of the posterior tibial nerve through the tarsal tunnel. The clinical examination includes percussion of the nerve within the tarsal tunnel. Simultaneous dorsiflexion and eversion of the foot may reproduce symptoms as the posterior tibial nerve is stretched and compressed Figure 3. Pes planus causes increased abduction of the forefoot and valgus deviation of the hindfoot Figure 4 , thereby increasing tension on the tibial nerve.

The dorsiflexion-eversion test used in the physical examination to reproduce the symptoms of tarsal tunnel syndrome. In some cases, nerve conduction velocities and electromyography may be used to confirm the diagnosis if treatment for presumptive neuropathic heel pain fails to improve symptoms. Heel pain caused by a neuroma of the medial calcaneal nerve is uncommon and may present with symptoms quite similar to those of plantar fasciitis. If conservative treatment of plantar fasciitis fails to alleviate symptoms, the physician should evaluate for a neuroma.

The heel pad is composed of columns of adipose tissue separated by fibrous septae. It is located directly beneath the calcaneus and acts as a hydraulic shock-absorbing layer. Elderly and obese patients who present with plantar heel pain may have symptoms caused by heel pad damage or atrophy. Inflammation of the heel pad also may be present in younger adults with sports-related injuries.

Although the symptoms of heel pad disorders overlap considerably with those of plantar fasciitis, heel pad pain is typically more diffuse. Heel pad pain involves most of the weight-bearing portion of the calcaneus, whereas plantar fasciitis pain is centered for the most part near the calcaneal tuberosity.

In contrast to pain caused by plantar fasciitis, heel pad pain tends not to radiate anteriorly, and dorsiflexion of the toes does not increase the pain.

Although rarely a cause of heel pain, osteomyelitis of the calcaneus generally results from contiguous infection of surrounding soft tissue. Serious foot infections are more likely to occur in patients who have diabetes mellitus or vascular insufficiency. Plain radiographs Information from references 20 and Patients with known systemic arthritis conditions, bilateral heel pain, or symptoms involving joints beyond the heel should undergo a thorough review of symptoms to assess for systemic illness as a possible cause of heel pain.

The seronegative spondyloarthropathies i. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the calcaneus and other adjacent structures; however, isolated heel pain as a presenting complaint would be uncommon, because hindfoot involvement typically occurs with advanced disease. Already a member or subscriber? Log in. Address correspondence to Tracy Aldridge, M. Box , Springfield, IL Reprints are not available from the author. The author indicates that she does not have any conflicts of interest. Sources of funding: none reported. Brown C. Aust Fam Physician ;—81,—5. Achilles tendon disorders in athletes. Am J Sports Med.

The dorsiflexion-eversion test for diagnosis of tarsal tunnel syndrome. Mechanical treatment of plantar fasciitis. A prospective study. J Am Podiatr Med Assoc. Plantar fasciitis: a degenerative process fasciosis without inflammation. Ahstrom JP Jr. Spontaneous rupture of the plantar fascia. Stephens MM. Orthop Clin North Am. Painful heel: MR imaging findings. Early confirmation of stress fractures in joggers.

Imaging of stress fractures in the athlete. Radiol Clin North Am. Tumors of the heel. Clin Podiatr Med Surg. Endometrial adenocarcinoma presenting as an isolated calcaneal metastasis. A Rare entity with good prognosis. Bergqvist D, Mattsson J. Solitary calcaneal metastasis as the first sign of gastric cancer. A case report. Ups J Med Sci. Monarthritis of the ankle as manifestation of a calcaneal metastasis of bronchogenic carcinoma. Wearing comfortable, well-fitting shoes particularly shoes that conform to the shape of the foot and do not cause pressure areas.

Surgery for pain, not for cosmetic purposes. Applying pads to the affected area. Medicine, such as ibuprofen. Hammertoe is a condition in which the toe buckles, causing the middle joint of the affected toe to poke out. Tight-fitting shoes that put pressure on the hammertoe often aggravate this condition. Often a corn develops at the site, too. Treatment for hammertoes may include:. Applying a toe pad specially positioned over the bony protrusion.

Changing your footwear to accommodate the deformed toe. Surgical removal. Pain in the ball of the foot. Pain in the ball of the foot, located on the bottom of the foot behind the toes, may be caused by nerve or joint damage in that area.

In addition, a benign noncancerous growth, such as Morton's neuroma , may cause the pain. Corticosteroid injections and wearing supportive shoe inserts may help relieve the pain. Pain the heel. Plantar fasciitis is characterized by severe pain in the heel of the foot, especially when standing up after resting.

The condition is due to an overuse injury of the sole surface plantar of the foot and results in inflammation of the fascia, a tough, fibrous band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the base of the toes. Plantar fasciitis is more common in women, people who are overweight, people with occupations that require a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces, people with flat feet and people with high arches.

Walking or running, especially with tight calf muscles, may also cause the condition. Ice pack applications. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines. Stretching exercises of the Achilles tendons and plantar fascia. A heel spur is a bone growth on the heel bone. If the plantar fascia is overstretched from running, wearing poor-fitting shoes or being overweight, pain can result from the stress and inflammation of the tissue pulling on the bone.

Over time, the body builds extra bone in response to this stress resulting in heel spurs.

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Treatment options may include:. Cold packs.

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Anti-inflammatory medicine, such as ibuprofen. Proper stretching before activity. Proper footwear or shoe inserts. Corticosteroid injections. Surgery for more severe, prolonged conditions. Pain in the Achilles tendon. The Achilles tendon is the largest tendon in the human body. It connects the calf muscle to the heel bone. However, this tendon is also the most common site of rupture or tendonitis , an inflammation of the tendon due to overuse. Achilles tendonitis is caused by overuse of the tendon and calf muscles.

Symptoms may include mild pain after exercise that worsens gradually, stiffness that disappears after the tendon warms up, and swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicine. Strengthening exercises.