Plantar fasciitis is a common painful disorder affecting the heel and underside of the foot. It is a disorder of the insertion site of plantar fascia on the bone and is characterized by scarring, inflammation, or structural breakdown of the foot’s plantar fascia. It is often caused by overuse injury of the plantar fascia, increases in exercise, weight or age. Although plantar fasciitis was originally thought to be an inflammatory process, newer studies have demonstrated structural changes more consistent with a degenerative process. As a result of this new observation, many in the academic community have stated the condition should be renamed plantar fasciosis.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining the ligament that supports your arch. Repeated strain can cause tiny tears in the ligament. These can lead to pain and swelling. This is more likely to happen if your feet roll inward too much when you walk, you have high arches or flat feet. You walk, stand, or run for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces. You are overweight. You wear shoes that don’t fit well or are worn out. You have tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles.
Plantar fasciitis sufferers feel a sharp stab or deep ache in the middle of the heel or along the arch. Another sign is the morning hobble from the foot trying to heal itself in a contracted position overnight. Taking that first step causes sudden strain on the bottom of the foot. The pain can recur after long spells of sitting, but it tends to fade during a run, once the area is warmed up.
Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by a health care provider after consideration of a person’s presenting history, risk factors, and clinical examination. Tenderness to palpation along the inner aspect of the heel bone on the sole of the foot may be elicited during the physical examination. The foot may have limited dorsiflexion due to tightness of the calf muscles or the Achilles tendon. Dorsiflexion of the foot may elicit the pain due to stretching of the plantar fascia with this motion. Diagnostic imaging studies are not usually needed to diagnose plantar fasciitis. However, in certain cases a physician may decide imaging studies (such as X-rays, diagnostic ultrasound or MRI) are warranted to rule out other serious causes of foot pain. Bilateral heel pain or heel pain in the context of a systemic illness may indicate a need for a more in-depth diagnostic investigation. Lateral view x-rays of the ankle are the recommended first-line imaging modality to assess for other causes of heel pain such as stress fractures or bone spur development. Plantar fascia aponeurosis thickening at the heel greater than 5 millimeters as demonstrated by ultrasound is consistent with a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. An incidental finding associated with this condition is a heel spur, a small bony calcification on the calcaneus (heel bone), which can be found in up to 50% of those with plantar fasciitis. In such cases, it is the underlying plantar fasciitis that produces the heel pain, and not the spur itself. The condition is responsible for the creation of the spur though the clinical significance of heel spurs in plantar fasciitis remains unclear.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor will determine what treatment is best for your condition. The most common treatments for plantar fasciitis include icing the affected area, inserting custom-made orthotics into your shoes, massaging the plantar fascia, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, strengthening the foot, wearing a night splint, wearing shoes with arch support, physical therapy, stretching the calf muscles, shockwave therapy or radiotherapy. To keep the plantar fascia lengthened as you sleep, your doctor may ask you to wear night splints. In the morning, taking your first steps is less painful because the plantar fascia remains stretched throughout the night. Avoiding activities such as walking or running helps the healing process. Losing weight, if it is a factor in the condition, may help to reduce the stress placed on the plantar fascia.
The most common surgical procedure for plantar fasciitis is plantar fascia release. It involves surgical removal of a part from the plantar fascia ligament which will relieve the inflammation and reduce the tension. Plantar fascia release is either an open surgery or endoscopic surgery (insertion of special surgical instruments through small incisions). While both methods are performed under local anesthesia the open procedure may take more time to recover. Other surgical procedures can be used as well but they are rarely an option. Complications of plantar fasciitis surgery are rare but they are not impossible. All types of plantar fasciitis surgery pose a risk of infection, nerve damage, and anesthesia related complications including systemic toxicity, and persistence or worsening of heel pain.
Exercises designed to stretch both your calf muscles and your plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs under the sole of your foot) should help relieve pain and improve flexibility in the affected foot. A number of stretching exercises are described below. It’s usually recommended that you do the exercises on both legs, even if only one of your heels is affected by pain. This will improve your balance and stability, and help relieve heel pain. Towel stretches. Keep a long towel beside your bed. Before you get out of bed in the morning, loop the towel around your foot and use it to pull your toes towards your body, while keeping your knee straight. Repeat three times on each foot. Wall stretches. Place both hands on a wall at shoulder height, with one of your feet in front of the other. The front foot should be about 30cm (12 inches) away from the wall. With your front knee bent and your back leg straight, lean towards the wall until you feel a tightening in the calf muscles of your back leg. Then relax. Repeat this exercise 10 times before switching legs and repeating the cycle. You should practise wall stretches twice a day. Stair stretches. Stand on a step of your stairs facing upstairs, using your banister for support. Your feet should be slightly apart, with your heels hanging off the back of the step. Lower your heels until you feel a tightening in your calves. Hold this position for about 40 seconds, before raising your heels back to the starting position. Repeat this procedure six times, at least twice a day. Chair stretches. Sit on a chair, with your knees bent at right angles. Turn your feet sideways so your heels are touching and your toes are pointing in opposite directions. Lift the toes of the affected foot upwards, while keeping the heel firmly on the floor. You should feel your calf muscles and Achilles tendon (the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your calf muscle) tighten. Hold this position for several seconds and then relax. Repeat this procedure 10 times, five to six times a day. Dynamic stretches. While seated, roll the arch of your foot (the curved bottom part of the foot between your toes and heel) over a round object, such as a rolling pin, tennis ball or drinks can. Some people find that using a chilled can from their fridge has the added benefit of helping to relieve pain. Move your foot and ankle in all directions over the object for several minutes. Repeat the exercise twice a day.