Treatment helps ease stubborn heel pain: study

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A simple office procedure helped relieve stubborn heel pain, offering a new way to treat plantar fasciitis, the most common cause of heel pain, Italian researchers said on Monday.

Some 95 percent of patients who got the treatment, which involves injecting an ultrasound-guided needle into the area, had no symptoms after three weeks, a quick recovery for a painful condition that can take months or longer to heal, they told a meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. It occurs when connective tissues called the plantar fascia that run along the bottom of the foot become inflamed, often because of a bone spur or obesity.

Conventional treatment with stretching exercises, splints worn at night and arch supports can take up to a year to work.

If that fails, doctors sometimes use shockwave therapy, a painful procedure in which sound waves are aimed at the heel.

The new approach involves using an ultrasound-guided needle to make tiny punctures in the fascia, causing a bit of bleeding to help promote healing.

“We make nature work for us,” said Dr. Luca Sconfienza of the University of Genoa in Italy.

“Blood contains platelets and these platelets contain some factors that help tissues to heal naturally,” Sconfienza said in a telephone interview.

“After that, we inject some steroids around the fascia to provide a short-term treatment for the inflammation,” he said, adding, “The whole treatment takes about 15 minutes.”

Sconfienza and colleagues studied the new approach in 44 patients with heel pain who had not been helped by other treatments. Of those, 42 patients had no pain after three weeks, and remained pain-free after six months.

Sconfienza said the treatment should be studied in a larger, more rigorous trial with longer follow-up. But he thinks the procedure might offer a better option than shockwave therapy, which requires several treatments and is not always effective.

“This therapy is quicker, easier, less painful and less expensive than shockwave therapy,” Sconfienza said.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Cynthia Osterman)

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