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Donít Let Heel Pain Slow You Down

April 21, 2010

Over the course of a lifetime, the heels of our feet endure a lot of abuse.

"Every time a person’s heel makes contact, it sustains pressure equivalent to about 65,000 pounds per square inch – or the weight of two and a half elephants," says Fremont podiatrist, Warren M. Johnson, DPM, who is on the medical staff at Washington Hospital. "Heel problems are among the most common conditions podiatrists treat and seem to be on the rise."

Dr. Johnson will conduct a free seminar about "Heel Problems and Treatment Options" on Tuesday, April 27 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Part of the Health & Wellness education series conducted by Washington Hospital, the class will be held in the Conrad E. Anderson M.D. Auditorium, located at 2500 Mowry Avenue (Washington West) in Fremont. To reserve your spot, go online to www.whhs.com and look under Upcoming Seminars, or call (800) 963-7070.

At the seminar, Dr. Johnson will describe the various types and levels of heel pain. He’ll also explain what people can do at home to treat the conditions and help prevent them from getting worse.

"Often, if you treat heel pain early, you can minimize its debilitating effects," advises Dr. Johnson. "By the time someone with heel pain comes to see me, they have usually had the problem for three to six months. At that point, it may take a longer course of treatment–perhaps four to six months–before the condition is resolved. Stimulating the body to heal after a lengthy injury takes much more time."

By doing the right things and diverting the pain early, people can avoid a long period of inactivity, Dr. Johnson explains.

Dr. Johnson treats numerous conditions related to heel pain, but plantar fasciitis is the most common. It is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is the thick connective tissue extending from the heel bone along the sole of the foot toward the toes. This tissue supports the arch of the foot and acts like a bowstring between the ball of the foot and the heel. As a person walks, they lift the heel of their trailing leg off the ground, putting a great deal of tension on the plantar fascia, and this can make the tissue more susceptible to injury.

People who have plantar fasciitis usually feel the pain on the front and bottom of the heel, but pain can occur in any part of the bottom of the foot where the fascia is located. Interestingly, although the heel may hurt when it contacts the ground, this is not what causes plantar fasciitis. The most common causes are increased activity or a sudden injury, lack of flexibility in the calf muscle, being overweight, or spending too much time on your feet. The problem can also come from having no arch support or walking on hard surfaces wearing shoes that don’t have much of a cushion or don’t bend easily under the ball of the foot.

"The common denominator I see among most of my patients with plantar fasciitis is they go barefoot around the house a lot," reports Dr. Johnson. "Or, if the person is a runner, he or she allows their shoes to break down and lose the arch support. Then, while running, they are prone to pulling the plantar fascia, which leads to inflammation."

Like any other repetitive motion injury, plantar fasciitis can often be relieved with ice, elevation and limited activity to take pressure off the heel. Stretching exercises can also be helpful. The key is to start treatment early before the inflammation worsens. At the seminar, Dr. Johnson will explain how to recognize plantar fasciitis and what people can do to help themselves by preventing a more debilitating condition.

He will also discuss heel spurs, which people often mistakenly relate to plantar fasciitis.

"Heel spurs can be present in people with plantar fasciitis, but they are usually not painful," adds Dr. Johnson.

If you have questions or concerns about heel problems, including plantar fasciitis, heel spurs or any other condition, you can learn more by attending the upcoming Health & Wellness seminar.

"In reality, there’s no silver bullet for treating many painful heel conditions," says Dr. Johnson. "It depends on how long you’ve had the condition and what problems may have contributed originally. That’s why it’s a good idea to have an early understanding about how the heel functions. We’ll discuss this at the forum."