Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain in adults. The pain is usually caused by collagen degeneration (which is sometimes misnamed “chronic inflammation”) at the origin of the plantar fascia at the medial tubercle of the calcaneus. This degeneration is similar to the chronic necrosis of tendonosis, which features loss of collagen continuity, increases in ground substance (matrix of connective tissue) and vascularity, and the presence of fibro-blasts rather than the inflammatory cells usually seen with the acute inflammation of tendonitis. The cause of the degeneration is repetitive microtears of the plantar fascia that overcome the body’s ability to repair itself.
The most frequent cause is an abnormal motion of the foot called excessive pronation. Normally, while walking or during long distance running, your foot will strike the ground on the heel, then roll forward toward your toes and inward to the arch. Your arch should only dip slightly during this motion. If it lowers too much, you have what is known as excessive pronation. For more details on pronation, please see the section on biomechanics and gait. Clinically not only those with low arches, but those with high arches can sometimes have plantar fasciitis. The mechanical structure of your feet and the manner in which the different segments of your feet are linked together and joined with your legs has a major impact on their function and on the development of mechanically caused problems. Merely having “flat feet” won’t take the spring out of your step, but having badly functioning feet with poor bone alignment will adversely affect the muscles, ligaments, and tendons and can create a variety of aches and pains. Excess pronation can cause the arch of your foot to stretch excessively with each step. It can also cause too much motion in segments of the foot that should be stable as you are walking or running. This “hypermobility” may cause other bones to shift and cause other mechanically induced problems.
Symptoms of the plantar fasciitis include a gradual onset of pain under the heel which may radiate into the foot. Tenderness is usually felt under and on the inside of the heel which is initially worse first in the morning but eases as the foot warms up only to return later in the day or after exercise. Stretching the plantar fascia may be painful.
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
A number of conservative measures can help take stress off the plantar fascia and encourage healing, including Icing, Taping the arch and bottom of the foot, Stretching, especially the calf, Avoiding walking with bare feet, especially on hard surfaces, Wearing orthotics or arch supports, Taking over-the-counter anti-inflammatories. If these methods fail, we generally try one of two things, A cortisone injection can help reduce swelling. Often a single injection will do the trick, but occasionally a second injection may be needed. Alternatively, we can try extracorporeal pulse activation therapy, or EPAT. This method uses sound waves to penetrate to the plantar fascia and stimulate the body’s healing response. We typically do one treatment a week for three weeks, with complete healing taking between nine to 12 weeks.
Like every surgical procedure, plantar fasciitis surgery carries some risks. Because of these risks your doctor will probably advise you to continue with the conventional treatments at least 6 months before giving you approval for surgery. Some health experts recommend home treatment as long as 12 months. If you can’t work because of your heel pain, can’t perform your everyday activities or your athletic career is in danger, you may consider a plantar fasciitis surgery earlier. But keep in mind that there is no guarantee that the pain will go away completely after surgery. Surgery is effective in many cases, however, 20 to 25 percent of patients continue to experience heel pain after having a plantar fasciitis surgery.
Stretching the plantar fascia and the calf muscle area can help to prevent inflammation. Slowly increasing the amount or intensity of athletic activities by graded progression can also help to prevent injury. Recommended Stretches: Taking a lunge position with the injured foot behind and keeping your heels flat on the floor, lean into a wall and bend the knees. A stretch should be felt in the sole and in the Achilles tendon area. Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds. Also try this stretch with the back leg straight.