From a podiatrist’s perspective, this is a sad thing to write, but we all take our feet for granted. The fact of the matter is this – these valuable appendages both support our weight when we stand and enable us to be mobile.
We really should give our feet and ankles more consideration!
If you think about it for a second, it would be difficult to participate in many activities if you suddenly had your feet taken away from you. This isn’t to say it would be impossible. After all, there are people who are born without the ability to use their lower limbs, and many do just fine.
For those of us who are accustomed to having (and being able to use) them, however, it would be more of a challenge. Again, not necessarily one that is insurmountable – as is evidenced by servicemen and women, just to use a quick example, who have had to undergo lower limb amputation while serving our nation.
Still, learning to lead a life without feet isn’t a particularly easy endeavor.
Accordingly, it’s in your best interest to maintain foot and ankle health. Part of this entails recognizing problems—such as heel and arch pain—early so you can have them treated.
Heel and Arch Anatomy – The Starting Point for Understanding Why Problems Develop
All parts of your feet play a certain role in bearing weight and providing mobility. Two essential areas for both stability and movement are the heels and foot arches.
Since painful symptoms in a heel or arch can limit your activity options, you should want to know how to recognize problems and understand why they exist. The best starting point for this insight is to take a quick look at foot anatomy.
With regards to your heel, the heel bone (calcaneus) is the largest one in the foot. It is also the anchor-point for two very important connective tissues – your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia:
The Achilles tendon connects the bottom of the calf muscle to your foot – anchoring in the back. This valuable tendon—the largest and strongest in the entire body—enables us to move our foot up and down when the calf muscle either expands or contracts (respectively).
The plantar fascia connects the back of the foot to the front. This fibrous band is anchored to the bottom of the heel and runs lengthwise across the sole. One of the main functions of this particular fascia is to support the foot arch.
Speaking of the foot arch, this key anatomical structure plays a major role in helping your feet absorb the tremendous amount of force that accompanies every step.
In all likelihood, you are unaware of this, but you put roughly one-and-a-half to two times your bodyweight on a foot as it lands when you take a step. That’s just during walking. The force loads can increase to as much as four times your weight when you run!
Foot arches are formed by ligaments, tendons, and the tarsal and metatarsal bones. Usually, when people refer to foot arches, they are referring to the medial longitudinal arch – the most prominent arch. This particular arch runs along the inside edge, from the forefoot to the rearfoot.
It is worth noting that there are actually two additional arches – the lateral longitudinal arch (runs parallel to the medial arch, but on the outer edge of the foot) and the transverse arch (located at the midfoot and running perpendicular to the other two arches).
A Closer Look at Heel and Arch Pain
Heel pain is a fairly broad term used to describe basically anything causing discomfort in a heel. Due to its broad nature, there are several potential manifestations of this particular problem.
Now, the underlying condition might affect tendons, muscles, bones, or nerves in the area. Not all sources of heel pain are equally as common – but one commonality is the discomfort or pain that can be severe to the point of taking away your stability and mobility.
Some of the more common causes of heel pain include:
Plantar fasciitis – For adults, this is the leading cause. It starts when the plantar fascia becomes inflamed and irritated in response to excessive strain and force.
Achilles tendinitis – The “Achilles heel,” if you will, for the weekend warrior our there. This problem develops when the Achilles tendon becomes inflamed and irritated in response to excessive strain and force. An instrumental factor in this common overuse injury is a tightened calf muscle (which leads to excessive tugging on the anchored tendon).
Sever’s disease – Whereas plantar fasciitis is the most prevalent cause of adult heel pain, this is the leading one for preteens and adolescents. A growing pain of sorts, the condition—which isn’t actually a “disease”—happens when a growth plate found in the back of the heel reaches physical maturity before the Achilles tendon. This results in a situation wherein the Achilles tendon pulls on its anchored point at the back of the heel.
With regards to arch pain, there are a variety of factors that could be at work, including injury, structural imbalance, and even plantar fasciitis (which makes sense given the fascia’s role in supporting foot arches).
Painful arch injuries can be related to bones, ligaments, and tendons having become weakened on account of overuse. In particular, posterior tibial tendon dysfunction (PTTD) is an injury of this nature that can potentially lead to severe discomfort.
When the root cause of arch pain is structural in nature, we are usually referring to arches that are either too low (flatfoot) or too high (cavus foot). These kinds of structural abnormalities affect a natural biomechanical process known as pronation.
This inward rotation—which takes place during the ground portion of a step—is intended to help the lower limbs more equitably distribute force loads. Those with flatfoot have a propensity to pronate excessively (overpronate), while individuals with cavus foot might not pronate enough (supinate).
In some cases, arch pain is connected to injuries or conditions causing heel pain. This can be a matter of biomechanical abnormalities creating heel discomfort having an effect on foot arches. At other times, an arch injury places additional strain on the heel. Either way, your overall comfort and stability will probably be compromised.
Finding Relief for Heel and Arch Pain
Given the amount of physical force feet endure—along with their role in stability and movement—foot injuries and conditions are rather common, especially ones responsible for heel and arch pain.
There is good news, though – our team at McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group can help you (and your loved ones) overcome the pain and difficulty. Even better is the fact that conservative care is usually quite successful, with surgery being unnecessary for a majority of cases.
Naturally, the specific treatments we prescribe to take away your heel or arch pain will depend on an array of different factors. With that said, our approach is to use conservative (nonsurgical) care whenever possible, potentially including any of the following:
Rest. Along with giving your body some time to recovery, resting and avoiding intense athletic activities is an essential measure for preventing additional damage to injured tissues.
Medication. Anti-inflammatory medications and corticosteroids may be prescribed to both relieve pain and reduce swelling in the injured foot.
Ice. As with medication, cold therapy is useful for addressing pain and reducing inflammation in the injured area. When icing, make sure you wrap the ice or ice pack in a thin towel (so as to avoid damaging your skin).
Footwear. Ill-fitting, worn out, or unsupportive pairs of shoes can lead to foot or ankle pain. We can provide recommendations for footwear that can improve the situation.
Custom orthotics. For some patients, we prescribe custom orthotics that are able to correct abnormal biomechanical processes and better support the foot as a whole. The customization of these medical devices really separates them from off-the-shelf shoe inserts.
Stretches. Given the role of tight tendons, muscles, and other soft tissues in heel and arch injuries, a proper stretching program can help improve the situation and relieve painful symptoms.
In rare cases, surgical intervention may be recommended, but a vast number of our patients are able to be helped with a conservative treatment plan.
Expert Podiatric Care in Sacramento
No matter the reason you’ve developed heel or arch pain, our team will assess the situation, determine the nature of your injury, and then create a customized treatment plan to resolve it for you.
Remember, foot pain is not normal – rather, this is your body’s way of saying something is wrong and needs to be addressed.
Let McDowell Orthopedics & Podiatry Group provide the effective care you need!
Contact our Carmichael office today and request an appointment by either calling (916) 961-3434 or connecting with us online right now.