The plantar fascia is a thickened fibrous aponeurosis that originates from the medial tubercle of the calcaneus, runs forward to insert into the deep, short transverse ligaments of the metatarsal heads, dividing into 5 digital bands at the metatarsophalangeal joints and continuing forward to form the fibrous flexor sheathes on the plantar aspect of the toes. Small plantar nerves are invested in and around the plantar fascia, acting to register and mediate pain.
Plantar fasciitis is one of those injuries that magically seems to appear for no apparent reason. However, plantar fasciitis is caused by one of two methods. They are either traction or compression injuries. Plantar fasciitis is most often associated with impact and running sports, especially those that involve toe running rather than heel running styles. It is also commonly diagnosed in individuals with poor foot biomechanics that stress the plantar fascia. Flat feet or weak foot arch control muscles are two common causes of plantar fasciitis.
The major complaint of those with plantar fasciitis is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. This develops gradually over time. It usually affects just one foot, but can affect both feet. Some people describe the pain as dull, while others experience a sharp pain, and some feel a burning or ache on the bottom of the foot extending outward from the heel. The pain is usually worse in the morning when you take your first steps out of bed, or if you’ve been sitting or lying down for a while. Climbing stairs can be very difficult due to the heel stiffness. After prolonged activity, the pain can flare-up due to increased inflammation. Pain is not usually felt during the activity, but rather just after stopping.
Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by your physiotherapist or sports doctor based on your symptoms, history and clinical examination. After confirming your plantar fasciitis they will investigate WHY you are likely to be predisposed to plantar fasciitis and develop a treatment plan to decrease your chance of future bouts. X-rays may show calcification within the plantar fascia or at its insertion into the calcaneus, which is known as a calcaneal or heel spur. Ultrasound scans and MRI are used to identify any plantar fasciitis tears, inflammation or calcification. Pathology tests (including screening for HLA B27 antigen) may identify spondyloarthritis, which can cause symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
In the early stages of plantar fasciitis resting the foot may ease the pain. Medication to reduce inflammation should help but should only be used short term. Strapping may temporarily reduce the pain. All of the above therapies are only temporary measures and the pain is likely to reoccur if the cause of the abnormal pressure which has triggered the plantar fasciitis has not been identified. In order to establish the cause of the plantar fasciitis a biomechanical assessment may be required.
Surgery is rarely used in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. However it may be recommended when conservative treatment has been tried for several months but does not bring adequate relief of symptoms. Surgery usually involves the partial release of the plantar fascia from the heel bone. In approximately 75% of cases symptoms are fully resolved within six months. In a small percentage of cases, symptoms may take up to 12 months to fully resolve.
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.