The plantar fascia (a connective tissue structure) stretches from the toes and ball of the foot, through the arch, and connects to the heel bone in three places: outside, center and inside. Normally it helps the foot spring as it rolls forward. It also provides support for the arch of the foot. The plantar fascia helps keep the foot on track, cutting down on oscillation. When the foot over-pronates (rolls to the inside) the plantar fascia tries to stabilize it and prevent excessive roll. In time, the inside and sometimes center connections are overstressed and pull away from their attachments. The first sign is usually heel pain as you rise in the morning. When you walk around, the pain may subside, only to return the next morning. Inflammation and increased soreness are the results of long-term neglect and continued abuse. A heel bone spur may develop after a long period of injury when there is no support for the heel. The plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone with small fibers. When these become irritated they become inflamed with blood containing white blood cells. Within the white blood cells are osteoblasts which calcify to form bone spurs and calcium deposits. The body is trying to reduce stress on that area by building a bone in the direction of stress. Unfortunately, these foreign substances cause pain and further irritation in the surrounding soft tissue.
As a person gets older, the plantar fascia becomes less like a rubber band and more like a rope that doesn’t stretch very well. The fat pad on the heel becomes thinner and can’t absorb as much of the shock caused by walking. The extra shock damages the plantar fascia and may cause it to swell, tear or bruise. You may notice a bruise or swelling on your heel. Other risk factors for plantar fasciitis include being overweight and obesity. Diabetes. Spending most of the day on your feet. Becoming very active in a short period of time. Being flat-footed or having a high arch.
A sharp pain in the center of your heel will most likely be one of the biggest symptoms of plantar fasciitis. A classic sign of plantar fasciitis is when the pain is worst during the first steps you take in the morning.
Diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is based on a medical history, the nature of symptoms, and the presence of localised tenderness in the heel. X-rays may be recommended to rule out other causes for the symptoms, such as bone fracture and to check for evidence of heel spurs. Blood tests may also be recommended.
Non Surgical Treatment
In general, we start by correcting training errors. This usually requires relative rest, the use of ice after activities, and an evaluation of the patient’s shoes and activities. Next, we try correction of biomechanical factors with a stretching and strengthening program. If the patient still has no improvement, we consider night splints and orthotics. Finally, all other treatment options are considered. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications are considered throughout the treatment course, although we explain to the patient that this medicine is being used primarily for pain control and not to treat the underlying problem.
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.
An important part of prevention is to perform a gait analysis to determine any biomechanical problems with the foot which may be causing the injury. This can be corrected with orthotic inserts into the shoes. If symptoms do not resolve then surgery is an option, however this is more common for patients with a rigid high arch where the plantar fascia has shortened.