The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot that helps form the arch of the foot. Acute injury or cumulative trauma to the plantar fascia can be a cause of inflammation and heel pain. This is called plantar fasciitis.
There are multiple potential causes and contributing factors to plantar fasciitis heel pain. The structure of a person’s foot and the way that they walk or run usually play a significant role in the development of plantar fasciitis. Those with an arch that is lower or higher than the average person are more likely to be afflicted. Overexertion and/or participating in activities that a person is not accustomed to also place a person at risk. This can include a heavy workout, a job change, or even an extended shopping trip. Additionally, inappropriate shoes are also often a factor. Exercising in shoes that are worn out or don’t have enough support and/or wearing inexpensive, flimsy or flat-soled dress or casual shoes are common culprits. In warm climates, such as here in Southern California, people who wear flip-flop sandals or even go barefoot throughout the year increase their chances of developing heel pain. Many athletes and weekend warriors develop heel or arch pain from over-exertion during running or other sports. People who work at jobs that involve long periods of standing, such as grocery checkers, cashiers, warehouse workers, postal workers, and teachers are more susceptible as well. Adults of all ages can develop plantar fasciitis. Heel pain in children is usually caused by a different type of condition.
Plantar fasciitis is characterized by the following signs and symptoms. Acute plantar fasciitis, pain is usually worse in the morning but may improve when activity continues; if the plantar fasciitis is severe, activity will exacerbate the pain, pain will worsen during the day and may radiate to calf or forefoot, pain may be described anywhere from “minor pulling” sensation, to “burning”, or to “knife-like”, the plantar fascia may be taut or thickened, passive stretching of the plantar fascia or the patient standing on their toes may exacerbate symptoms, acute tenderness deep in the heel-pad along the insertion of the plantar aponeurosis at the medial calcaneal tuberosity and along the length of the plantar fascia, may have localized swelling. Chronic plantar fasciitis, plantar fasciitis is classified as “chronic” if it has not resolved after six months, pain occurs more distally along the aponeurosis and spreads into the Achilles tendon.
To diagnose plantar fasciitis, your doctor will physically examine your foot by testing your reflexes, balance, coordination, muscle strength, and muscle tone. Your doctor may also advise a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-ray to rule out other others sources of your pain, such as a pinched nerve, stress fracture, or bone spur.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your health care provider will often recommend these steps first Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to reduce pain and inflammation. Heel and foot stretching exercises. Night splints to wear while sleeping to stretch the foot. Resting as much as possible for at least a week. Wearing shoes with good support and cushions. Other steps to relieve pain include aply ice to the painful area. Do this at least twice a day for 10 – 15 minutes, more often in the first couple of days. Try wearing a heel cup, felt pads in the heel area, or shoe inserts. Use night splints to stretch the injured fascia and allow it to heal. If these treatments do not work, your health care provider may recommend waring a boot cast, which looks like a ski boot, for 3 – 6 weeks. It can be removed for bathing. Custom-made shoe inserts (orthotics). Steroid shots or injections into the heel. Smetimes, foot surgery is needed.
Surgery for plantar fasciitis can be very successful in the right patients. While there are potential complications, about 70-80% of patients will find relief after plantar fascia release surgery. This may not be perfect, but if plantar fasciitis has been slowing you down for a year or more, it may well be worth these potential risks of surgery. New surgical techniques allow surgery to release the plantar fascia to be performed through small incisions using a tiny camera to locate and cut the plantar fascia. This procedure is called an endoscopic plantar fascia release. Some surgeons are concerned that the endoscopic plantar fascia release procedure increases the risk of damage to the small nerves of the foot. While there is no definitive answer that this endoscopic plantar fascia release is better or worse than a traditional plantar fascia release, most surgeons still prefer the traditional approach.
You can help to prevent plantar fasciitis by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch and cushion the heel. In people who are prone to episodes of plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the heel cord (known as the Achilles tendon) and the plantar fascia may help to prevent plantar fasciitis from returning. Ice massage also can be used on the bottom of the foot after stressful athletic activities. It is possible that strict control of blood sugar will prevent plantar fasciitis in people with diabetes, although this has not been proven.