The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Heal Heel Pain With Radiation

Posted by on Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

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You’ve surely seen them–signs that say things like “Heal That Heel Pain!” or “Heel Pain No More” followed by promises of a cure for plantar fasciitis, a foot condition marked by heel pain. No one would be advertising something if there wasn’t a demand for it, and there is indeed a demand for a cure for plantar fasciitis–a survey this year by the Institute for Preventative Foot Health found an increase from their 2009 survey  in the number of people reporting pain from plantar fasciitis. It’s one of the most common causes of heel pain.

Plantar fasciitis is particularly annoying because of its tendency to longer and recur. Now, though, there could be a new solution to help heal the stubborn heal pain: radiation.

First, a mini-review of plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs from your forefoot to your heel. When the plantar fascia is strained, it becomes inflamed, causing pain in the heel that is typically felt the most first thing in the morning or on that first step if you’ve been sitting a long time. If the pain is left untreated, heel spurs, painful little spikes of bone, can develop, making matters worse.

Traditional treatments for plantar fasciitis include icing the painful heel and rest from activities that aggravate the pain. Calf stretches to loosen the calf muscles and Achilles tendon (tight calf muscles and Achilles tendons are common causes of plantar fasciitis) are also recommended, as are heel cups to help relax the Achilles tendon. Being overweight is also connected to plantar fasciitis, so weight loss is a common tactic for overweight heel pain sufferers (help yourself take some extra weight off your feet with easy healthy food choices). Cortisone shots provide relief, but only temporarily. Extracorporeal shockwave treatment (ESWT) has been used successfully on some plantar fasciitis sufferers. Surgery can help, especially if there are heel spurs, but the recovery process can be long and painful.

Enter radiation–a July 2012 report in Science Daily says that in a randomized study of people with plantar fasciitis and heel spurs, patients experienced “significantly less pain and improved quality of life following a standard dose of external beam radiation therapy.” This is the same type of radiation that’s used in treating cancer, similar to the amount of radiation found in an X-ray.

The study found that eighty percent of those who received the radiation treatment reported complete pain relief, and sixty-four percent of those in the study felt continued pain relief or pain improvement for the duration of the forty-eight month follow-up. That’s a pretty good record.

Marcus Niewald, MD, PhD, a radiation oncologist at Saarland University Medical Center in Homburg/Saar, Germany, one of the study’s authors, said:

“Radiation therapy has been used for its anti-inflammatory effect for more than 60 years. We are extremely encouraged by the results of our research because evidence of improved quality of life for patients is clearly evident with the standard dose regimen.”

I think we can expect to hear more about this type of treatment for plantar fasciitis in the near future, especially as an alternative to surgery for people suffering from painful heel spurs.

Of course radiation may not be the best choice for everyone. If you’re suffering from heel pain, start dealing with it early, before heel spurs make it worse. Talk to a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to find out what the best choice is for you. The important thing is to just do something about it–don’t ignore your painful heels!

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If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.