The plantar fascia is a thickened fibrous aponeurosis that originates from the medial tubercle of the calcaneus and runs forward to form the longitudinal foot arch. The function of the plantar fascia is to provide static support of the longitudinal arch and dynamic shock absorption. Individuals with pes planus (low arches or flat feet) or pes cavus (high arches) are at increased risk for developing plantar fasciitis.
Plantar Fasciitis is frequently cited as the number one cause of heel pain. The condition affects both children and adults. Children typically outgrow the problem, but affected adults may experience recurring symptoms over the course of many months or years. The syndrome afflicts both highly active and sedentary individuals. Typically, Plantar Fasciitis results from a combination of causes, including, pronation, a condition in which the plantar fascia doesn’t transfer weight evenly from the heel to the ball of the foot when you walk. Overuse of the feet without adequate periods of rest. High arches, flat feet or tightness in the Achilles’ tendon at the back of the heel. Obesity. Working conditions that involve long hours spent standing or lifting heavy objects. Worn or ill-fitting footwear. The normal aging process, which can result in a loss of soft tissue elasticity. Physical trauma to the foot, as in the case of taking a fall or being involved in a car accident.
You’ll typically first notice early plantar fasciitis pain under your heel or in your foot arch in the morning or after resting. Your heel pain will be worse with the first steps and improves with activity as it warms up. As plantar fasciitis deteriorates, the pain will be present more often. You can determine what stage your are in using the following guidelines. No Heel Pain, Normal! Heel pain after exercise. Heel pain before and after exercise. Heel pain before, during and after exercise. Heel pain all the time. Including at rest! This symptom progression is consistent with the four stages of a typical overuse injury. Ultimately, further trauma and delayed healing will result in the formation of calcium (bone) within the plantar fascia. When this occurs adjacent to the heel bone it is known as heel spurs, which have a longer rehabilitation period.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.
Non Surgical Treatment
Over-the-counter Orthotics. A soft, over-the-counter orthotic (Prefabricated orthotic) with an accommodating arch support has proven to be quite helpful in the management of plantar fascia symptoms. Studies demonstrate that it is NOT necessary to obtain a custom orthotic for the treatment of this problem. Comfort Shoes. Shoes with a stiff sole, rocker-bottom contour, and a comfortable leather upper combined with an over-the-counter orthotic or a padded heel can be very helpful in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. Anti-Inflammatory Medication (NSAIDs): A short course of over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications may be helpful in managing plantar fasciitis symptoms providing the patient does not have any contra-indications such as a history of stomach ulcers. Activity Modification Any activity that has recently been started, such as a new running routine or a new exercise at the gym that may have increased loading through the heel area, should be stopped on a temporary basis until the symptoms have resolved. At that point, these activities can be gradually started again. Also, any activity changes (ex. sitting more) that will limit the amount of time a patient is on their feet each day may be helpful. A night splint, which keeps the ankle in a neutral position (right angle) while the patient sleeps, can be very helpful in alleviating the significant morning symptoms. A night splint may be prescribed by your physician. Alternatively, it can be ordered online or even obtained in some medical supply stores. This splint is worn nightly for 1-3 weeks until the cycle of pain is broken. Furthermore, this splinting can be reinstituted for a short period of time is symptoms recur.
Surgery for plantar fasciitis can be very successful in the right patients. While there are potential complications, about 70-80% of patients will find relief after plantar fascia release surgery. This may not be perfect, but if plantar fasciitis has been slowing you down for a year or more, it may well be worth these potential risks of surgery. New surgical techniques allow surgery to release the plantar fascia to be performed through small incisions using a tiny camera to locate and cut the plantar fascia. This procedure is called an endoscopic plantar fascia release. Some surgeons are concerned that the endoscopic plantar fascia release procedure increases the risk of damage to the small nerves of the foot. While there is no definitive answer that this endoscopic plantar fascia release is better or worse than a traditional plantar fascia release, most surgeons still prefer the traditional approach.