When Heel Pain Is Misdiagnosed

Why is heel pain often misdiagnosed?

Because plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain, podiatrists too frequently jump to the conclusion that any patient presenting with heel pain has this disorder. Mistakes, of course, are inevitable, and medical professionals are as prone to make them as the rest of us. Nonetheless, it is important for podiatrists to consider less common causes of heel pain when confronted with a new patient. If you have been the victim of a misdiagnosis of foot pain leading to ongoing or increased pain, or even unnecessary surgery, you should contact a personal injury attorney who specializes in podiatric malpractice.

What is plantar fasciitis?

The painful condition known as plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia — the thick band of tissue on the sole that stretches the full length of the foot — becomes inflamed. During long rest periods, usually during the night, the plantar fascia tightens excessively and when the patient begins to move the muscles again, the pressure makes small tears in the connective tissue. Such tears cause inflammation, resulting in the pain patients experience when they arise in the morning. The pain may worsen after they sit or stand for extended periods.

How often is heel pain misdiagnosed?

Unfortunately, too many doctors don’t take enough time with each of their patients to make a proper diagnosis. In order to diagnose heel pain precisely, it is necessary for the podiatrist to thoroughly examine the internal structure of the affected foot. As Dr. Rock Positano of the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City discovered through research, the only way to definitively diagnose heel pain is through an ultrasound procedure, not just through a simple X-ray.

In Dr. Positano’s study, 140 medical files were examined, all of patients who had been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. He then administered an ultrasound test to each of these patients. Although 73 percent of the plantar fasciitis diagnoses proved to be correct, an alarming number (34 percent) additionally showed evidence of undiagnosed ligament tears. In addition, 15 percent of the ultrasounds revealed at least one previously undiagnosed plantar fibroma (benign cyst).

The Dangers of Misdiagnosis

Since treatment is planned around diagnosis, when misdiagnosis occurs, the treatment plan is askew. Not only will incorrect treatment fail to solve the problem, in many cases it can exacerbate the underlying condition. A primary example of this is found when there are torn ligaments involved because podiatrists often advise patients who are suffering from plantar fasciitis to do stretching exercises. While helpful for the fasciitis, stretching will worsen a torn ligament, so the patient’s condition will be exacerbated by the misguided treatment. Moreover, if the patient has a fibroma, it may require a surgical procedure. In any case, the research study points to the fact that patients with heel pain would be wise to request a diagnostic ultrasound to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment.

About the Author
Of all the different areas in medical malpractice, it is podiatry malpractice that has had a particular interest to me. With 42 years practicing law and representing hundreds of victims of malpractice, I have created a law practice in which my clients are comfortable knowing that their case is being handled with my personal attention, in the most professional manner, and without unreasonable delays.