Plantar fasciitis refers to an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick, fibrous band running along the sole of the foot. Such inflammation results from direct injury to the plantar fascia, usually, repeated trauma to the tissue where the fascia attaches to the calcaneus or heel bone. The plantar fascia is critical in maintaining the foot’s complex arch system, also playing a role in balance and fine control of certain phases of the athlete’s gait. Injury to the plantar fascia is particularly painful and disabling for runners and can often prove stubbornly resistant to treatment. Rehabilitation is frequently a lengthy and frustrating process. For these reasons, care should be taken where possible to avoid such injury by means of preventative exercises and sensitivity to early warning signs.
Repeated small injuries to the fascia (with or without inflammation) are thought to be the cause of plantar fasciitis. The injury is usually near to where the plantar fascia attaches to your heel bone. You are more likely to injure your plantar fascia in certain situations. For example, if you are on your feet for a lot of the time, or if you do lots of walking, running, standing, etc, when you are not used to it. (Plantar fasciitis may be confused with ‘Policeman’s heel’, but they are different. Policeman’s heel is plantar calcaneal bursitis – inflammation of the sack of fluid (bursa) under the heel bone. This is not as common as plantar fasciitis.) Also, people with a sedentary lifestyle are more prone to plantar fasciitis. If you have recently started exercising on a different surface, for example, running on the road instead of a track. If you have been wearing shoes with poor cushioning or poor arch support. If you are overweight this will put extra strain on your heel. If there is overuse or sudden stretching of your sole. For example, athletes who increase running intensity or distance; poor technique starting ‘off the blocks’, etc. If you have a tight Achilles tendon (the big tendon at the bottom of your calf muscles above your heel). This can affect your ability to flex your ankle and make you more likely to damage your plantar fascia. Often there is no apparent cause for plantar fasciitis, particularly in older people. A common wrong belief is that the pain is due to a bony growth or ‘spur’ coming from the heel bone (calcaneum). Many people have a bony spur of the heel bone but not everyone with this gets plantar fasciitis.
Symptoms of plantar fasciitis can occur suddenly or gradually. When they occur suddenly, there is usually intense heel pain on taking the first morning steps, known as first-step pain. This heel pain will often subside as you begin to walk around, but it may return in the late afternoon or evening. When symptoms occur gradually, a more long-lasting form of heel pain will cause you to shorten your stride while running or walking. You also may shift your weight toward the front of the foot, away from the heel.
Most cases of plantar fasciitis are diagnosed by a health care provider who listens carefully to your description of symptoms. During an examination of your feet, your health care provider will have to press on the bottom of your feet, the area most likely to be painful in plantar fasciitis. Because the pain of plantar fasciitis has unique characteristics, pain upon rising, improvement after walking for several minutes, pain produced by pressure applied in a specific location on your foot but not with pressure in other areas, your health care provider will probably feel comfortable making the diagnosis based on your symptoms and a physical examination. Your health care provider may suggest that you have an X-ray of your foot to verify that there is no stress fracture causing your pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for plantar fasciitis includes medication, physical therapy, shock wave therapy, or surgery. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen are used to treat the inflammation and pain of plantar fasciitis, but they won’t cure the condition. Corticosteroids can also be used to ease pain and reduce inflammation. Corticosteroids are applied either as a topical solution in conjunction with a non-painful electric current or through injections to the affected area.
Surgery is rarely needed in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. The vast majority of patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis will recover given ample time. With some basic treatment steps, well over 90% of patients will achieve full recovery from symptoms of plantar fasciitis within one year of the onset of treatment. Simple treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, shoe inserts, and stretching exercises. In patients where a good effort with these treatments fails to provide adequate relief, some more aggressive treatments may be attempted. These include cortisone injections or extracorporeal shock wave treatments.
In one exercise, you lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and heel on the ground. Your other knee is bent. Your heel cord and foot arch stretch as you lean. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times for each sore heel. It is important to keep the knee fully extended on the side being stretched. In another exercise, you lean forward onto a countertop, spreading your feet apart with one foot in front of the other. Flex your knees and squat down, keeping your heels on the ground as long as possible. Your heel cords and foot arches will stretch as the heels come up in the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times. About 90 percent of people with plantar fasciitis improve significantly after two months of initial treatment. You may be advised to use shoes with shock-absorbing soles or fitted with an off-the-shelf shoe insert device like a rubber heel pad. Your foot may be taped into a specific position. If your plantar fasciitis continues after a few months of conservative treatment, your doctor may inject your heel with steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. If you still have symptoms, you may need to wear a walking cast for two to three weeks or a positional splint when you sleep. In a few cases, surgery is needed for chronically contracted tissue.