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.
Plantar fasciitis can develop when your feet roll in too far as you take each step. This rolling in, known as over-pronation, can happen for many reasons. It can be due to excessive weight gain, pregnancy, quickly increasing physical activity, tight calf muscles, poor biomechanics or merely wearing unsupportive, flat footwear. When your feet over-pronate, your arches can collapse, putting strain on the tissues in the bottom of your foot.
Plantar fasciosis is characterized by pain at the bottom of the heel with weight bearing, particularly when first arising in the morning; pain usually abates within 5 to 10 min, only to return later in the day. It is often worse when pushing off of the heel (the propulsive phase of gait) and after periods of rest. Acute, severe heel pain, especially with mild local puffiness, may indicate an acute fascial tear. Some patients describe burning or sticking pain along the plantar medial border of the foot when walking.
Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by your physiotherapist or sports doctor based on your symptoms, history and clinical examination. After confirming your plantar fasciitis they will investigate WHY you are likely to be predisposed to plantar fasciitis and develop a treatment plan to decrease your chance of future bouts. X-rays may show calcification within the plantar fascia or at its insertion into the calcaneus, which is known as a calcaneal or heel spur. Ultrasound scans and MRI are used to identify any plantar fasciitis tears, inflammation or calcification. Pathology tests (including screening for HLA B27 antigen) may identify spondyloarthritis, which can cause symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
There are a number of treatments that can help relieve heel pain and speed up your recovery. These include resting your heel, try to avoid walking long distances and standing for long periods, regular stretching, stretching your calf muscles and plantar fascia, pain relief, using an icepack on the affected heel and taking painkillers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) wearing good-fitting shoes that support and cushion your foot, running shoes are particularly useful, using supportive devices such as orthoses (rigid supports that are put inside the shoe) or strapping. Around four out of five cases of heel pain resolve within a year. However, having heel pain for this length of time can often be frustrating and painful. In around one in 20 cases, the above treatments are not enough, and surgery may be recommended to release the plantar fascia.
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.