Have you ever gotten up from a chair or out of bed in the morning, and upon taking that first step, feel like your heel has stepped on a tack? Many people experience a feeling of sharp pain which radiates into their arch from their heel and which does not allow them to put their heel on the floor. Sometimes they need to sit back down, stand only on their toes and use the wall for balance. If you can take a few steps, it seems to go away and lessen, allowing you to then resume your activity. Later, throughout your day and after a period of rest, it can happen again. If this sounds familiar you may be suffering from your first attack of heel pain.
Heel pain is a debilitating condition that affects day to day activities. Running and walking both causes stress on the heel because the heel is the part of the foot that hits the ground first. This means that the heel is taking on your entire weight. Diagnosis and treatments for heel pain can be easily found through your podiatrist.
One of the main causes of heel pain is a condition known as plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a band of tissue that extends along the bottom of the foot, from the toe to the bottom of the heel. A rip or tear in this ligament can cause inflammation of these tissues, resulting in heel pain. People who do not wear proper fitting shoes are often at risk of developing problems such as plantar fasciitis. Unnecessary stress from ill-fitting shoes, weight change, excessive running, and wearing non-supportive shoes on hard surfaces are all causes of plantar fasciitis.
Achilles tendonitis is another cause of heel pain. Similar to plantar fasciitis, inflammation of the Achilles tendon will cause heel pain due to stress fractures and muscle tearing. A lack of flexibility of the ankle and heel is an indicator of Achilles tendonitis. If left untreated, this condition can lead to plantar fasciitis and cause even more pain on your heel.
A third cause of heel pain is a heel spur. A heel spur occurs when the tissues of the plantar fascia undergo a great deal of stress, leading to a separation of the ligament from the heel bone entirely. This results in a pointed fragment of bone on the ball of the foot, known as a heel spur.
Ankle Foot Orthotics for Athletes
Ankle and foot orthotics, known as AFOs, are custom-made inserts. They are shaped and contoured to fit inside a shoe and used to correct an irregular walking gait or provide cushioning. Orthotics come in a variety of different models and sizes, including over the counter and customizable variants. Customizable ones should be prescribed through a podiatrist who specializes in customized footwear and orthotics design and management.
AFOs are often used by athletes including track and field runners, cyclists, professional dancers, ice skaters, and even golfers. They benefit a lot from custom made AFOs by preventing injuries from occurring and providing cushioning to keep pain levels down to a minimum. Ankle foot orthotics allows for the correct positioning of the feet. Orthotics also act as shock absorbers to help keep pressure and stress off the foot and ankle. They can also relieve back pain and hip pain while restoring balance and improving an athlete’s performance.
Orthotics help alleviate pain by controlling the movement of both your feet and ankles. They are custom designed by a podiatrist to help treat foot problems. These problems include flat feet, spurs, arthritis of the ankle or foot, ankle sprains, weakness, and drop foot, a condition in which the patient cannot raise their foot at the ankle joint.
With custom orthotics, a patient will go through a complete examination of the foot and ankle. This is followed by the ankle and foot being cast and fitted for the proper orthotic. Depending upon the final result of the tests, a stretching treatment is created with the specific shoe fitting in mind. After a patient has been fitted to the shoes, adjustments can be made in order to get the perfect fit. Evaluations are then usually set up to monitor the patient in the coming weeks to see how they are adjusting.
AFOs are also available over the counter and are more common than custom fit ones. Athletes that have generally low aches and pains in the foot, ankle, or lower back area can use an over the counter version of these orthotics. Weight is distributed evenly throughout the bottom of the foot thanks to the arch support they give. However, when an injury or ailment occurs, it is usually not enough to try and remedy it with an over the counter version. In either case, a podiatrist will be able to offer the best advice and treatment when it comes to foot and ankle orthotics.
Systemic Diseases of the Foot
There are several systemic diseases, or diseases that affect the whole body, that either display symptoms in the feet or affect the health of the feet. Common systemic diseases that affect the overall health of the feet, and the patient’s ability to walk comfortably, include gout, diabetes mellitus, neurological disorders, and arthritis.
In gout, which is caused by an excessive buildup of uric acid in the body, the most common symptoms of pain, inflammation, and redness occur at the metatarsal/phalangeal joint at the base of the big toe. Any excess levels of uric acid, crystallize and are deposited in tendons, joints, and surrounding bone and muscle tissue. Gout is commonly treated with NSAIDs to relieve pain and inflammation and other drugs to lower uric acid levels in the body. Gout most commonly affects those who are overweight, have low protein diets and lead a more sedentary lifestyle.
Diabetes mellitus is an increase in the level of blood sugar in which the body cannot counteract with naturally occurring insulin in the body. The three types of diabetes, Type I, Type II and Gestational Diabetes, are all signs the body is either not producing enough insulin or is not efficiently using the insulin that is produced. Gestational diabetes only affects women who are pregnant and have never, prior to pregnancy, exhibited symptoms of the disease.
There are two main issues that affect the feet that are commonly caused by diabetes. They include diabetic neuropathy and peripheral vascular disease. Diabetic neuropathy can lead to damaged nerves and affect the feet through numbness and loss of sensation. Peripheral vascular disease restricts the flow of blood to the foot and can, in extreme cases, lead to the necessity of amputating the foot. Peripheral issues that are caused by diabetes and can affect the foot include athlete’s foot, nail infections, corns, blisters, bunions, severe dry skin, plantar warts and ingrown toenails. These can all be attributed to the decrease of blood flow to the foot.
Neurological disorders and rheumatoid arthritis can also have severe impact on the health of the feet. Neurological disorders can affect the nerves in the main structure of the foot and cause loss of sensation and possible decreased muscle response. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the bones and joint structures of the foot, making it impossible to walk normally without serious pain.
All systemic diseases that affect the foot can effectively be treated to minimize joint and muscle damage if they are diagnosed early and treated with medication and lifestyle therapy. Diabetes patients must monitor their blood sugar levels and work with their physician to keep their levels as close to normal as possible. Rheumatoid arthritis patients should work with their physician to ensure the proper medications are being taken to reduce the amount of damage to the joints of the body.
Arthritic Foot Care
During your lifetime, you will probably walk about 75,000 miles, which is quite a lot of stress to put on your feet. As you get older, the 26 bones and 30 joints in each of your feet will lose flexibility and elasticity. Your foot’s natural shock absorbers will wear down as well. Having arthritis added to this mix only makes matters worse. Your joints will become distorted and inflamed, which is why arthritic foot care needs to be something to think about every day.
When dealing with arthritis, having additional foot complications, such as bunions, hammertoes, or neuroma, can be a serious detriment. To avoid these, buy well-fitting shoes with a lower heel and good support. Arthritis causes you to lose your arch, so having shoes with good arch support is also highly recommended.
Aside from getting good arch support, the shoes need to fit comfortably and properly as well. A good place to start is by leaving a finger width between the back of the shoe and your foot to gauge proper size. It is also helpful to have a square or rounded toe box in the front to provide even more comfort. Another thing to look for is a rubber sole that can provide a cushion and absorb shock as you walk. This adds flexibility to the ball of your foot when you push off your heel to walk.
Exercise is another key aspect of arthritic foot care. Exercise not only strengthens and stretches your muscles and joints, but helps to prevent further injury and pain as well. Stretching the Achilles tendon, the tendon located in the back of your heel, will give you added mobility and reduce pain due to stress. Another thing you can do is massage your feet, kneading the ball of your foot as well as your toes from top to bottom.
Stretching the Achilles tendon is a simple exercise that you can do at home anytime. Lean against the wall with your palms flat against the surface while placing one foot forward, towards the wall, and one foot behind you. Bend your forward knee towards the wall while keeping your back knee locked straight, and make sure both your heels are completely touching the ground at all times. This will stretch your Achilles tendon and calf muscles as well. You will feel the stretch almost immediately. You can also stretch your toes in a couple ways. One involves taking a rubber band and wrapping it around both your big toes while your heels remain together. Then, pull them apart to stretch your big toe. You can also place a rubber band around all the toes of one of your feet. Then, try to separate each individual toe, stretching them all.
A final step you can take to help your arthritis is taking non-steroid, non-inflammatory drugs or topical medicines with capsaicin. Unfortunately, there is no complete way to remove all of your arthritic pain. However, following some of this advice can go a long way in staying as pain-free as possible.