The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band that runs the length of the sole of the foot. The plantar fascia helps maintain the complex arch system of the foot and plays a role in one’s balance and the various phases of gait. Injury to this tissue, called plantar fasciitis, is one of the most disabling running injuries and also one of the most difficult to resolve. Plantar fasciitis represents the fourth most common injury to the lower limb and represents 8 -10% of all presenting injuries to sports clinics (Ambrosius 1992, Nike 1989). Rehabilitation can be a long and frustrating process. The use of preventative exercises and early recognition of danger signals are critical in the avoidance of this injury.
The most common cause of plantar fasciitis relates to faulty structure of the foot. For example, people who have problems with their arches, either overly flat feet or high-arched feet, are more prone to developing plantar fasciitis. Wearing non-supportive footwear on hard, flat surfaces puts abnormal strain on the plantar fascia and can also lead to plantar fasciitis. This is particularly evident when one’s job requires long hours on the feet. Obesity may also contribute to plantar fasciitis.
The classic sign of plantar fasciitis is that the worst pain occurs with the first few steps in the morning, but not every patient will have this symptom. Patients often notice pain at the beginning of activity that lessens or resolves as they warm up. The pain may also occur with prolonged standing and is sometimes accompanied by stiffness. In more severe cases, the pain will also worsen toward the end of the day.
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
The following self-help treatments have been found to be most effective. Rest your foot. Reduce the amount of weight-bearing activities you participate in. Get off of your feet and elevate them. This will allow healing to begin. Apply ice to your foot. Applications of ice packs that provide a comfortable cooling to the heel and arch (not a freezing cold) will help reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Apply the ice to the heel and arch (not the toes). Make sure it is comfortable, and leave on your foot for about 20 minutes, 3 times a day. If you have any medical problems such as diabetes, poor circulation, etc., discuss the use of ice with your doctor before applying the ice. ActiveWrap allows you to apply comfortable cold therapy to your foot without messy ice cubes. Use while on the “go.” Do not walk with bare feet. Always protect your heels, arches, and plantar fascia with good supportive shoes. Orthaheel Orthotic Flip Flops For Men and Women are designed for walking comfort with built in orthotic footbeds that help reduce foot pain from plantar fasciitis. Use in the house or on the beach. Stretch the Plantar Fascia while sleeping. Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spur pain is usually worse with the first steps in the morning. This is due to the Plantar Fascia tightening up, or contracting while we sleep. To prevent these pain producing contractures of the plantar fascia, the foot must be held in its normal or neutral position while we sleep. This optimal position of the foot is maintained with our comfortable and supportive Night Splint. When foot contractures are prevented during sleep, the “first step pains” Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spurs will gradually subside. Stretch the Plantar Fascia during the day. Even though the Plantar Fascia is a thick tissue band with very little “give” to it, with the proper care (a Night Splint and the following exercises) it can be stretched a small amount. By stretching the Plantar Fascia even a bit, its abnormal pull on the heel is reduced. This will help to reduce pain and inflammation in the heel and arch. Two of the most effective exercises recommended are. Before stepping down, especially after sleeping or resting, stretch the arch of the foot by stretching your legs out in front of you (do not bend the knee). Place a towel around the ball of the foot. Slowly pull on the ends of the towel, pulling the toes and ball of the foot back as far as is comfortable. Hold the foot in this position for ten seconds. Repeat at least ten times. You should feel a pull on the bottom of the foot, especially in the arch. This stretches the plantar fascia, and reduces its pull on the heel. Stand about 2 to 3 feet from a wall. Lean forward with your hands against the wall. With the painful foot behind, place the other foot forward. Press against the wall, shifting weight over the front foot, while straightening the back leg. Keep the heel of the back foot on the floor and feel the stretch in the heel, Achilles tendon, and calf. Hold this position for ten seconds. Repeat at least ten times, and try to do this three times a day. When these things are achieved, the inflammation and pain of Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Spurs will gradually subside. If you are unsure of the nature of your foot problem, if your pain is intense and does not subside, if you are a diabetic or have other medical problems, if your pain is due to an injury, if an open sore is present, if a mass can be felt, or if you think that you may have an infection, we suggest that before beginning any of the above treatments you consult with your doctor.
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.
While it’s typical to experience pain in just one foot, massage and stretch both feet. Do it first thing in the morning, and three times during the day. Achilles Tendon Stretch. Stand with your affected foot behind your healthy one. Point the toes of the back foot toward the heel of the front foot, and lean into a wall. Bend the front knee and keep the back knee straight, heel firmly planted on the floor. Hold for a count of 10. Plantar Fascia Stretch. Sit down, and place the affected foot across your knee. Using the hand on your affected side, pull your toes back toward your shin until you feel a stretch in your arch. Run your thumb along your foot–you should feel tension. Hold for a count of 10.