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Foot Doctors Say Heel Pain Has a Variety of Causes (and Treatments)

Posted on Oct 29, 2012

Patients who suffer from chronic heel pain in Philadelphia may take comfort in knowing that often their condition can be treated, and maybe even conquered, with some fairly minor changes.

Dr. Heidi Stephens, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at USF Health at the University of South Florida in Tampa, says many patients make the mistake of waiting until the pain has become unbearable before they seek treatment—and by then, treatment may mean surgery. 

By beginning treatment earlier, Dr. Stephens said many patients can be treated with conservative measures such as wearing a brace, shoe pads, or orthotics, stretching the problem area through specific exercises, or simply buying different shoes.

Consider early treatment versus delayed treatment in patients with plantar fasciitis:

In patients with this condition, the ligament along the bottom of the foot that connects the heel bone to the toes becomes irritated and inflamed, causing heel pain. Patients commonly experience pain when putting weight on the foot, especially first thing in the morning. The pain may also appear during activities that stretch the ligament, such as standing on tiptoe or climbing stairs.

In many cases, patients can relieve their pain with rest and anti-inflammatory drugs. A podiatrist might also recommend exercises to stretch the calf and foot muscles, and discuss the fit and cushioning of the patient’s shoes. Custom orthotics can take some of the pressure off the ligament and possibly reduce the risk of recurrence. Steroid injections are helpful in some cases.

In severe cases or if none of the earlier steps provides adequate relief, the usual surgical procedure involves severing the plantar fascia ligament. Afterward, the patient usually needs to wear a protective boot for a few weeks.

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