Foot health

02 December 2008

Your heels

The heel forms the base of one of the arches that supports the body when you move around. It is also the first point of contact that your foot has with the ground.

This is the bone in the foot that forms the base of one of the arches that supports the weight of the body when you are walking, running or jumping. It is also the first point of contact that your foot has with the ground.

But how is your heel put together?

The heel bone, also called the calcaneus, is the largest bone in the foot. It lies underneath the ankle and joins the talus to form the subtular joint, which makes it possible for the foot to rotate. The calcaneus is connected to the heel cord, which is also known as the Achilles tendon. The heel is also attached to the metatarsal heads and toes in the front of the foot by a thick fibrous tissue called the plantar fascia.

Heel problems
Heel spurs and plantar fasciitis are the two most common problems that people have with their heels.

Heel spurs
Heel spurs are bony growths near the attachment of the plantar fascia to the heel that result from repetitive stresses and inflammation in the plantar fascia. Heel spurs are the body's response to injury and inflammation as the bone thickens and produces a nail-like spur to protect itself from excessive pulling by an overworked muscle or tendon.

Pain is usually found around or underneath the heel and usually feels stiff in the mornings or when a patient has been seated for a long time. Spurs often have to be removed, so medical attention is advised.

Click on this link to read more about heel spur syndrome.

Plantar fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the layer of connective tissue in the sole of the foot becomes inflammed. The cause is thought to be excessive stretching and in some cases are connected to heel spurs.

The main problem caused by this condition is pain beneath the heel on standing or walking. The pain extends towards the inside of the foot and into the sole. Sometimes, when the inflammation is part of something like rheumatoid arthritis, it is unilateral but both feet can be affected.

Treatment can include rest, physiotherapy, exercises and anti-inflammatories. A resilient cushion on the insole of the shoes and a moulded arch support to relieve the pressure on the heel is recommended. Sometimes cortisone injections into the tender area can treat the condition.

Read more about plantar fasciitis.

South African Podiatry Association (SAPA)


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