Background: Ten percent of people may experience pain under the heel (plantar heel pain) at some time. Injections, insoles, heel pads, strapping and surgery have been common forms of treatment offered. The absolute and relative effectiveness of these interventions are poorly understood.
Objectives: The objective of this review was to identify and evaluate the evidence for effectiveness of treatments for plantar heel pain.
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Musculoskeletal Injuries Group specialised register (September 2002), the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials Register (The Cochrane Library issue 3, 2002), MEDLINE (1966 to September 2002), EMBASE (1988 to September 2002) and reference lists of articles and dissertations. Four podiatry journals were handsearched to 1998. We contacted all UK schools of podiatry to identify dissertations on the management of heel pain, and investigators in the field to identify unpublished data or research in progress. No language restrictions were applied.
Selection criteria: Randomised and quasi-randomised trials of interventions for plantar heel pain in adults.
Data collection and analysis: Two reviewers independently evaluated randomised controlled trials for inclusion, extracted data and assessed trial quality. Additional information was obtained by direct contact with investigators. No poolable data were identified. Where measures of variance were available we have calculated the weighted mean differences based on visual analogue scale (VAS) scores.
Main results: Nineteen randomised trials involving 1626 participants were included. Trial quality was generally poor, and pooling of data was not conducted. All trials measured heel pain as the primary outcome. Seven trials evaluated interventions against placebo/dummy or no treatment. There was limited evidence for the effectiveness of topical corticosteroid administered by iontophoresis, i.e using an electric current, in reducing pain. There was some evidence for the effectiveness of injected corticosteroid providing temporary relief of pain. There was conflicting evidence for the effectiveness of low energy extracorporeal shock wave therapy in reducing night pain, resting pain and pressure pain in the short term (6 and 12 weeks) and therefore its effectiveness remains equivocal. In individuals with chronic pain (longer than six months), there was limited evidence for the effectiveness of dorsiflexion night splints in reducing pain. There was no evidence to support the effectiveness of therapeutic ultrasound, low-intensity laser therapy, exposure to an electron generating device or insoles with magnetic foil. No randomised trials evaluating surgery, or radiotherapy against a randomly allocated control population were identified. There was limited evidence for the superiority of corticosteroid injections over orthotic devices.
Reviewer's conclusions: Although there is limited evidence for the effectiveness of local corticosteroid therapy, the effectiveness of other frequently employed treatments in altering the clinical course of plantar heel pain has not been established in randomised controlled trials. At the moment there is limited evidence upon which to base clinical practice. Treatments that are used to reduce heel pain seem to bring only marginal gains over no treatment and control therapies such as stretching exercises. Steroid injections are a popular method of treating the condition but only seem to be useful in the short term and only to a small degree. Orthoses should be cautiously prescribed for those patients who stand for long periods; there is limited evidence that stretching exercises and heel pads are associated with better outcomes than custom made orthoses in people who stand for more than eight hours per day. Well designed and conducted randomised trials are required.