Plantar fasciitis is a common, painful foot condition. Patients, and sometimes doctors often confuse the terms plantar fasciitis and heel spurs. Plantar fasciitis refers to the syndrome of inflammation of the band of tissue that runs from the heel along the arch of the foot; a heel spur is a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone (calcaneus). About 70% of patients with plantar fasciitis have been noted to have a heel spur that can be seen on x-ray. Plantar fasciitis is most often seen in middle-aged men and women, but can be found in all age groups. The condition is diagnosed with the classic symptoms of pain well focused deep in the heel area of the bottom of the foot. Often the pain from plantar fasciitis is most severe when you first stand on your feet in the morning. Pain often subsides quite quickly, but then returns after prolonged standing or walking. Plantar fasciitis is sometimes, but not always, associated with a rapid gain of weight. It is also sometimes seen in recreational athletes, especially runners. In these athletes, it is thought that the repetitive nature of the sports causes the damage to the fibrous tissue that forms the arch of the foot.
The cause of plantar fasciitis is poorly understood and is thought to likely have several contributing factors. The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of connective tissue that originates from the medial tubercle and anterior aspect of the heel bone. From there, the fascia extends along the sole of the foot before inserting at the base of the toes, and supports the arch of the foot. Originally, plantar fasciitis was believed to be an inflammatory condition of the plantar fascia. However, within the last decade, studies have observed microscopic anatomical changes indicating that plantar fasciitis is actually due to a non-inflammatory structural breakdown of the plantar fascia rather than an inflammatory process. Due to this shift in thought about the underlying mechanisms in plantar fasciitis, many in the academic community have stated the condition should be renamed plantar fasciosis. The structural breakdown of the plantar fascia is believed to be the result of repetitive microtrauma (small tears). Microscopic examination of the plantar fascia often shows myxomatous degeneration, connective tissue calcium deposits, and disorganized collagen fibers. Disruptions in the plantar fascia’s normal mechanical movement during standing and walking (known as the Windlass mechanism) are thought to contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis by placing excess strain on the calcaneal tuberosity.
Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the heel of the foot. Some people complain of a sharp stabbing pain especially with walking. Others describe the pain as a dull ache after prolonged standing. The pain of plantar fasciitis is often worst in the morning or following activity.
Your doctor will ask you about the kind of pain you’re having, when it occurs and how long you’ve had it. If you have pain in your heel when you stand up for the first time in the morning, you may have plantar fasciitis. Most people with plantar fasciitis say the pain is like a knife or a pin sticking into the bottom of the foot. After you’ve been standing for a while, the pain becomes more like a dull ache. If you sit down for any length of time, the sharp pain will come back when you stand up again.
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.
The most dramatic therapy, used only in cases where pain is very severe, is surgery. The plantar fascia can be partially detached from the heel bone, but the arch of the foot is weakened and full function may be lost. Another surgery involves lengthening the calf muscle, a process called gastrocnemius recession. If you ignore the condition, you can develop chronic heel pain. This can change the way you walk and cause injury to your legs, knees, hips and back. Steroid injections and some other treatments can weaken the plantar fascia ligament and cause potential rupture of the ligament. Surgery carries the risks of bleeding, infection, and reactions to anesthesia. Plantar fascia detachment can also cause changes in your foot and nerve damage. Gastrocnemius resection can also cause nerve damage.
Every time your foot strikes the ground, the plantar fascia is stretched. You can reduce the strain and stress on the plantar fascia by following these simple instructions: Avoid running on hard or uneven ground, lose any excess weight, and wear shoes and orthotics that support your arch to prevent over-stretching of the plantar fascia.