Plantar fasciitis: Inflammation of the plantar fascia, the bowstring-like tissue that stretches from the heel bone to the base of the toes. Plantar fasciitis can be due to calcaneal spurs, which typically cause localized tenderness and pain that is made worse by stepping down on the heel. Plantar fasciitis may be related to physical activity overload, abnormal foot mechanics, or may be due to underlying diseases that cause arthritis, such as Reiter disease, ankylosing spondylitis, and diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. Treatment is designed to decrease inflammation and avoid reinjury. Icing reduces pain and inflammation. Anti-inflammatory agents, such as ibuprofen and injections of cortisone, can help. Infrequently, surgery is done on chronically inflamed spurs. A donut-shaped shoe insert can take pressure off a calcaneal spur and lessen plantar fasciitis.
The most frequent cause is an abnormal motion of the foot called excessive pronation. Normally, while walking or during long distance running, your foot will strike the ground on the heel, then roll forward toward your toes and inward to the arch. Your arch should only dip slightly during this motion. If it lowers too much, you have what is known as excessive pronation. For more details on pronation, please see the section on biomechanics and gait. Clinically not only those with low arches, but those with high arches can sometimes have plantar fasciitis. The mechanical structure of your feet and the manner in which the different segments of your feet are linked together and joined with your legs has a major impact on their function and on the development of mechanically caused problems. Merely having “flat feet” won’t take the spring out of your step, but having badly functioning feet with poor bone alignment will adversely affect the muscles, ligaments, and tendons and can create a variety of aches and pains. Excess pronation can cause the arch of your foot to stretch excessively with each step. It can also cause too much motion in segments of the foot that should be stable as you are walking or running. This “hypermobility” may cause other bones to shift and cause other mechanically induced problems.
Patients experience intense sharp pain with the first few steps in the morning or following long periods of having no weight on the foot. The pain can also be aggravated by prolonged standing or sitting. The pain is usually experienced on the plantar surface of the foot at the anterior aspect of the heel where the plantar fascia ligament inserts into the calcaneus. It may radiate proximally in severe cases. Some patients may limp or prefer to walk on their toes. Alternative causes of heel pain include fat pad atrophy, plantar warts and foreign body.
Your doctor will ask you about the kind of pain you’re having, when it occurs and how long you’ve had it. If you have pain in your heel when you stand up for the first time in the morning, you may have plantar fasciitis. Most people with plantar fasciitis say the pain is like a knife or a pin sticking into the bottom of the foot. After you’ve been standing for a while, the pain becomes more like a dull ache. If you sit down for any length of time, the sharp pain will come back when you stand up again.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for plantar fasciitis should begin with rest, icing, and over the counter medications. As mentioned above, an orthotic is a device that can be slipped into any pair of shoes and can often relieve pain and help to reverse the damage and occurrence of plantar fasciitis. They do this by adding support to the heel and helping to distribute weight during movement. In addition to orthotics, many people consider night splints for treating this condition. These devices are worn during the night while you sleep, helping to keep the plantar fascia stretched to promote healing. Physical therapy has also become a common option. With this conservative treatment alternative, a physical therapist designs a set of exercises that are intended to address your specific needs in order to promote healing.
Most patients have good results from surgery. However, because surgery can result in chronic pain and dissatisfaction, it is recommended only after all nonsurgical measures have been exhausted. The most common complications of release surgery include incomplete relief of pain and nerve damage.
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.