Plantar fasciitis refers to an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick, fibrous band running along the sole of the foot. Such inflammation results from direct injury to the plantar fascia, usually, repeated trauma to the tissue where the fascia attaches to the calcaneus or heel bone. The plantar fascia is critical in maintaining the foot’s complex arch system, also playing a role in balance and fine control of certain phases of the athlete’s gait. Injury to the plantar fascia is particularly painful and disabling for runners and can often prove stubbornly resistant to treatment. Rehabilitation is frequently a lengthy and frustrating process. For these reasons, care should be taken where possible to avoid such injury by means of preventative exercises and sensitivity to early warning signs.
A number of factors can contribute to plantar fasciitis. While men can get plantar fasciitis, it is more common in women. You’re also more likely to have this condition as you age or if you are overweight. Take up a new form of exercise or suddenly increase the intensity of your exercise. Are on your feet for several hours each day. Have other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus). Tend to wear high-heeled shoes, and then switch abruptly to flat shoes. Wear shoes that are worn out with weak arch supports and thin soles. Have flat feet or an unusually high arch. Have legs of uneven lengths or an abnormal walk or foot position. Have tight achilles tendons, or ‘heel cords’.
The most common symptom is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. The heel pain may be dull or sharp. The bottom of the foot may also ache or burn. The pain is often worse in the morning when you take your first steps, after standing or sitting for awhile, when climbing stairs, after intense activity. The pain may develop slowly over time, or come on suddenly after intense activity.
Your GP or podiatrist (a healthcare professional who specialises in foot care) may be able to diagnose the cause of your heel pain by asking about your symptoms and examining your heel and foot. You will usually only need further tests if you have additional symptoms that suggest the cause of your heel pain is not inflammation, such as numbness or a tingling sensation in your foot, this could be a sign of nerve damage in your feet and legs (peripheral neuropathy) your foot feels hot and you have a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above – these could be signs of a bone infection, you have stiffness and swelling in your heel, this could be a sign of arthritis. Possible further tests may include blood tests, X-rays – where small doses of radiation are used to detect problems with your bones and tissues, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan or ultrasound scan, which are more detailed scans.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment initially involves offloading the plantar fascia by aoiding aggravating factors, such as running. Taping, this can work very well to alleviate pain, and can be almost immediate. It isn’t a long-term solution, but can relieve symptoms in the beginning. Using a night splint to stretch the calf, so that less load is placed on the plantar fascia (if tightness in the calf is a factor). Using a gel heel cup, this can act to increase shock absorption, and by raising the heel there is also less stretch on the calf. So, temporarily, this may relieve pain in someone who has a tight calf. Massage, but this depends if the plantarfascia is actually tight or just painful. If it is tight, then massage can temporarily relieve the pain, but if it is irritated then taping and corrective footwear is preferable.
Surgery is rarely needed in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. The vast majority of patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis will recover given ample time. With some basic treatment steps, well over 90% of patients will achieve full recovery from symptoms of plantar fasciitis within one year of the onset of treatment. Simple treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, shoe inserts, and stretching exercises. In patients where a good effort with these treatments fails to provide adequate relief, some more aggressive treatments may be attempted. These include cortisone injections or extracorporeal shock wave treatments.
Being overweight can place excess pressure and strain on your feet, particularly on your heels. Losing weight, and maintaining a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy, balanced diet, can be beneficial for your feet. Wearing appropriate footwear is also important. Ideally, you should wear shoes with a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes with no heels.