Plantar Fascitis

Overview

Plantar fasciitis was previously believed to be inflammation of the fascia near its insertion on the heel bone. The suffix (-itis) means inflammation. Studies, however, reveal that changes in the tissue associated with the injury are degenerative and not related to inflammation, at least not in the way most people typically think of inflammation. Sudden onset of heel pain may indeed be related to acute inflammation. For persistent heel pain the condition more closely resembles long-standing degeneration of the plantar fascia near its attachment than inflammation. This could explain why anti-inflammatory medications and injections have been unsuccessful at treating it. But there is more to heel pain than just the plantar fascia.


Causes

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.


Symptoms

The main symptom of plantar fasciitis is heel pain when you walk. You may also feel pain when you stand and possibly even when you are resting. This pain typically occurs first thing in the morning after you get out of bed, when your foot is placed flat on the floor. The pain occurs because you are stretching the plantar fascia. The pain usually lessens with more walking, but you may have it again after periods of rest. You may feel no pain when you are sleeping because the position of your feet during rest allows the fascia to shorten and relax.


Diagnosis

During the physical exam, your doctor checks for points of tenderness in your foot. The location of your pain can help determine its cause. Usually no tests are necessary. The diagnosis is made based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally your doctor may suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn’t being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve. Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel pain.


Non Surgical Treatment

Treatment of plantar fasciitis is sometimes a drawn out and frustrating process. A program of rehabilitation should be undertaken with the help of someone qualified and knowledgeable about the affliction. Typically, plantar fasciitis will require at least six weeks and up to six months of conservative care to be fully remedied. Should such efforts not provide relief to the athlete, more aggressive measures including surgery may be considered. The initial goals of physical therapy should be to increase the passive flexion of the foot and improve flexibility in the foot and ankle, eventually leading to a full return to normal function. Prolonged inactivity in vigorous sports is often the price to be paid for thorough recovery. Half measures can lead to a chronic condition, in some cases severely limiting athletic ability. As a large amount of time is spent in bed during sleeping hours, it is important to ensure that the sheets at the foot of the bed do not constrict the foot, leading to plantar flexion in which the foot is bent straight out with the toes pointing. This constricts and thereby shortens the gastroc complex, worsening the condition. A heating pad placed under the muscles of the calf for a few minutes prior to rising may help loosen tension, increase circulation in the lower leg and reduce pain. Also during sleep, a night splint may be used in order to hold the ankle joint in a neutral position. This will aid in the healing of the plantar fascia and ensure that the foot will not become flexed during the night.


Surgical Treatment

Most practitioners agree that treatment for plantar fasciitis is a slow process. Most cases resolve within a year. If these more conservative measures don’t provide relief after this time, your doctor may suggest other treatment. In such cases, or if your heel pain is truly debilitating and interfering with normal activity, your doctor may discuss surgical options with you. The most common surgery for plantar fasciitis is called a plantar fascia release and involves releasing a portion of the plantar fascia from the heel bone. A plantar fascia release can be performed through a regular incision or as endoscopic surgery, where a tiny incision allows a miniature scope to be inserted and surgery to be performed. About one in 20 patients with plantar fasciitis will need surgery. As with any surgery, there is still some chance that you will continue to have pain afterwards.


Stretching Exercises

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.

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