Plantar fasciitis is a condition characterised by damage and inflammation to the plantar fascia (i.e. the connective tissue on the sole of the foot forming the inner arch. This usually occurs at the attachment of the plantar fascia to the heel bone. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain seen in clinical practice. During walking or running, tension is placed through the plantar fascia. When this tension is excessive (often due to poor foot biomechanics such as flat feet or if it is too repetitive or forceful, damage to the plantar fascia can occur. Plantar fasciitis is a condition where there is damage to the plantar fascia with subsequent inflammation and degeneration. This may occur traumatically due to a high force going through the plantar fascia beyond what it can withstand or, more commonly, due to gradual wear and tear associated with overuse. Occasionally, a heel spur may develop in association with plantar fasciitis.
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.
A sharp pain in the center of your heel will most likely be one of the biggest symptoms of plantar fasciitis. A classic sign of plantar fasciitis is when the pain is worst during the first steps you take in the morning.
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show tenderness on the bottom of your foot, flat feet or high arches, mild foot swelling or redness, stiffness or tightness of the arch in the bottom of your foot. X-rays may be taken to rule out other problems.
Non Surgical Treatment
Over-the-counter arch supports may be useful in patients with acute plantar fasciitis and mild pes planus. The support provided by over-the-counter arch supports is highly variable and depends on the material used to make the support. In general, patients should try to find the most dense material that is soft enough to be comfortable to walk on. Over-the-counter arch supports are especially useful in the treatment of adolescents whose rapid foot growth may require a new pair of arch supports once or more per season. Custom orthotics are usually made by taking a plaster cast or an impression of the individual’s foot and then constructing an insert specifically designed to control biomechanical risk factors such as pes planus, valgus heel alignment and discrepancies in leg length. For patients with plantar fasciitis, the most common prescription is for semi-rigid, three-quarters to full-length orthotics with longitudinal arch support. Two important characteristics for successful treatment of plantar fasciitis with orthotics are the need to control over-pronation and metatarsal head motion, especially of the first metatarsal head. In one study, orthotics were cited by 27 percent of patients as the best treatment. The main disadvantage of orthotics is the cost, which may range from $75 to $300 or more and which is frequently not covered by health insurance.
If treatment hasn’t worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints, a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as, open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel, endoscopic or minimal incision surgery – where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST) is a fairly new type of non-invasive treatment. Non-invasive means it does not involve making cuts into your body. EST involves using a device to deliver high-energy soundwaves into your heel. The soundwaves can sometimes cause pain, so a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your heel. It is claimed that EST works in two ways. It is thought to, have a “numbing” effect on the nerves that transmit pain signals to your brain, help stimulate and speed up the healing process. However, these claims have not yet been definitively proven. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance about the use of EST for treating plantar fasciitis. NICE states there are no concerns over the safety of EST, but there are uncertainties about how effective the procedure is for treating heel pain. Some studies have reported that EST is more effective than surgery and other non-surgical treatments, while other studies found the procedure to be no better than a placebo (sham treatment).
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.