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.
Training on improper, hard and/or irregular surfaces as well as excessive track work in spiked shoes, or steep hill running, can stress the plantar fascia past its limits of elasticity, leading to injury. Finally, failure in the early season to warm up gradually gives the athlete insufficient time for the structures of the foot to re-acclimate and return to a proper fitness level for intensive exercise. Such unprepared and repeated trauma causes microscopic tearing, which may only be detected once full-blown plantar fasciitis and accompanying pain and debilitation have resulted. If the level of damage to the plantar fascia is significant, an inflammatory reaction of the heel bone can produce spike-like projections of new bone, known as heel spurs. Indeed, plantar fasciitis has occasionally been refereed to as heel spur syndrome, though such spurs are not the cause of the initial pain but are instead a further symptom of the problem. While such spurs are sometimes painless, in other cases they cause pain or disability in the athlete, and surgical intervention to remove them may be required. A dull, intermittent pain in the heel is typical, sometimes progressing to a sharp, sustained discomfort. Commonly, pain is worse in the morning or after sitting, later decreasing as the patient begins walking, though standing or walking for long periods usually brings renewal of the pain.
Plantar fasciitis sufferers feel a sharp stab or deep ache in the middle of the heel or along the arch. Another sign is the morning hobble from the foot trying to heal itself in a contracted position overnight. Taking that first step causes sudden strain on the bottom of the foot. The pain can recur after long spells of sitting, but it tends to fade during a run, once the area is warmed up.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for tenderness in your foot and the exact location of the pain to make sure that it’s not caused by a different foot problem. The doctor may ask you to flex your foot while he or she pushes on the plantar fascia to see if the pain gets worse as you flex and better as you point your toe. Mild redness or swelling will also be noted. Your doctor will evaluate the strength of your muscles and the health of your nerves by checking your reflexes, your muscle tone, your sense of touch and sight, your coordination, and your balance. X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be ordered to check that nothing else is causing your heel pain, such as a bone fracture.
Non Surgical Treatment
Anti-inflammatory agents used in the treatment of plantar fasciitis include ice, NSAIDs, iontophoresis and cortisone injections. Ice is applied in the treatment of plantar fasciitis by ice massage, ice bath or in an ice pack. For ice massage, the patient freezes water in a small paper or foam cup, then rubs the ice over the painful heel using a circular motion and moderate pressure for five to 10 minutes. To use an ice bath, a shallow pan is filled with water and ice, and the heel is allowed to soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Patients should use neoprene toe covers or keep the toes out of the ice water to prevent injuries associated with exposure to the cold. Crushed ice in a plastic bag wrapped in a towel makes the best ice pack, because it can be molded to the foot and increase the contact area. A good alternative is the use of a bag of prepackaged frozen corn wrapped in a towel. Ice packs are usually used for 15 to 20 minutes. Icing is usually done after completing exercise, stretching, strengthening and after a day’s work.
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.