What Is Plantar Fasciitis

Foot Pain

Overview

At the bottom of your foot there’s a thick band of connective tissue called the plantar fascia or arch tendon. It connects your heel bone (calcaneus) to the front of your foot. If the plantar fascia becomes irritated and sore from overuse, it’s known as plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis sometimes can be mistaken for heel spurs, which is a different kind of injury with similar symptoms. Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain in runners, dancers, and athletes in sports that involve a lot of running or jumping. You don’t have to be active to get plantar fasciitis. It can affect anyone. People who are overweight, pregnant women, people whose jobs involve a lot of standing, and people who wear worn-out shoes all have a higher chance of getting plantar fasciitis.


Causes

You are at a greater risk for developing plantar fasciitis if you are overweight or obese. This is due to the increased pressure on your plantar fascia ligaments, especially if you have sudden weight gain. Women who are pregnant often experience bouts of plantar fasciitis, particularly during late pregnancy. If you are a long distance runner, you may be more likely to develop plantar fascia problems. You are also at risk if you have a very active job that involves being on your feet often, such as a factory worker or a restaurant server. Active men and women between the ages of 40 and 70 are at the highest risk for developing plantar fasciitis. It is also slightly more common in women than men. If you have foot problems, such as very high arches or very flat feet, you may develop plantar fasciitis. Tight Achilles tendons (the tendons attaching the calf muscles to the heels) may also result in plantar fascia pain. Simply wearing shoes with soft soles and poor arch support can also result in plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is not caused by heel spurs. A heel spur is a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone (calcaneus) of the foot. One out of every 10 people has a heel spur, but only one out of 20 people with heel spurs experience pain, according to OrthoInfo.


Symptoms

Among the symptoms for Plantar Fasciitis is pain usually felt on the underside of the heel, often most intense with the first steps after getting out of bed in the morning. It is commonly associated with long periods of weight bearing or sudden changes in weight bearing or activity. Plantar Fasciitis also called “policeman’s heel” is presented by a sharp stabbing pain at the bottom or front of the heel bone. In most cases, heel pain is more severe following periods of inactivity when getting up and then subsides, turning into a dull ache.


Diagnosis

Plantar fasciitis is one of many conditions causing “heel pain”. Some other possible causes include nerve compression either in the foot or in the back, stress fracture of the calcaneus, and loss of the fatty tissue pad under the heel. Plantar fasciitis can be distinguished from these and other conditions based on a history and examination done by a physician. It should be noted that heel spurs are often inappropriately thought to be the sole cause of heel pain. In fact, heel spurs are common and are nothing more than the bone’s response to traction or pulling-type forces from the plantar fascia and other muscles in the foot where they attach to the heel bone. They are commonly present in patients without pain, and frequently absent from those who have pain. It is the rare patient who has a truly enlarged and problematic spur requiring surgery.


Non Surgical Treatment

Shoe therapy, finding and wearing shoes that allow your feet to be in their natural position, is the most important treatment for plantar fasciosis. Shoes that possess a flat heel, are wide in the toe box, lack toe spring, and have flexible soles are most appropriate for this foot problem. An increasing number of shoe companies are producing shoes with these design characteristics, but shoes that include all these features are still difficult to find. For some suggested footwear models, see our clinic’s shoe list. Most conventional footwear can be modified by stretching the shoe’s upper, stretching out the toe spring, removing the shoe’s liner, and cutting the shoe at certain key points to allow more room for your foot. Visit your podiatrist to help you with these shoe modifications. Correct Toes is another helpful conservative treatment method for plantar fasciosis. Correct Toes addresses the root cause of your plantar fasciosis by properly aligning your big toe and reducing the tension created by your abductor hallucis longus on the blood vessels that feed and “cleanse” the tissues of your plantar fascia. Your plantar fasciosis-related pain will diminish when the dead tissue is washed away. A rehabilitation program, which includes targeted stretches and other exercises, for your foot may be helpful too. Dietary changes and aerobic exercise are particularly important for overweight individuals who have plantar fasciosis. Water aerobics may be most appropriate for those individuals whose pain does not allow them to walk or cycle. Physical therapy may be another helpful treatment modality for this problem, and includes ultrasound, electrical stimulation, contrast baths, and range-of-motion exercises. Massage, acupuncture, reflexology, and magnet therapy are holistic approaches that may be helpful.

Plantar Fasciitis


Surgical Treatment

Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.


Stretching Exercises

Stretching exercises for the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are recommend to relieve pain and aid in the healing process. Sometimes application of athletic tape is recommended. In moderate or severe cases of plantar fasciitis, your doctor may recommend you wearing a night splint, which will stretch the arch of your foot and calf while you sleep. This helps to lengthen the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia for symptom relief. Depending on the severity of your plantar fasciitis, your physician may prescribe a store-bought orthotic (arch support) or custom-fitted orthotic to help distribute your foot pressure more evenly.

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