The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue that runs along the sole from the heel to the ball of the foot. One of its main roles is to keep the bones and joints in position. Bruising or overstretching this ligament can cause inflammation and heel pain. A common cause is flat feet, because the ligament is forced to overstretch as the foot spreads out and the arch flattens. The pain may be worse first thing in the morning or after rest. In many cases, plantar fasciitis is associated with heel spur. The plantar fascia tears and bleeds at the heel and, over time, these injuries calcify and form a bony growth.
Plantar fasciitis is usually not the result of a single event but more commonly the result of a history of repetitive micro trauma combined with a biomechanical deficiency of the foot. Arthritic changes and metabolic factors may also playa part in this injury but are unlikely in a young athletic population. The final cause of plantar fasciitis is “training errors.” In all likelihood the injury is the result of a combination of biomechanical deficiencies and training errors. Training errors are responsible for up to 60% of all athletic injuries (Ambrosius 1992). The most frequent training error seen with plantar fasciitis is a rapid increase in volume (miles or time run) or intensity (pace and/or decreased recovery). Training on improper surfaces, a highly crowned road, excessive track work in spiked shoes, plyometrics on hard runways or steep hill running, can compromise the plantar fascia past elastic limits. A final training error seen in athletics is with a rapid return to some preconceived fitness level. Remembering what one did “last season” while forgetting the necessity of preparatory work is part of the recipe for injury. Metabolic and arthritic changes are a less likely cause of plantar fasciitis among athletes. Bilateral foot pain may indicate a metabolic or systemic problem. The definitive diagnosis in this case is done by a professional with blood tests and possibly x-rays.
Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the heel of the foot. Some people complain of a sharp stabbing pain especially with walking. Others describe the pain as a dull ache after prolonged standing. The pain of plantar fasciitis is often worst in the morning or following activity.
The health care provider will perform a physical exam. This may show tenderness on the bottom of your foot, flat feet or high arches, mild foot swelling or redness, stiffness or tightness of the arch in the bottom of your foot. X-rays may be taken to rule out other problems.
Non Surgical Treatment
Stretching is the best treatment for plantar fasciitis. It may help to try to keep weight off your foot until the initial inflammation goes away. You can also apply ice to the sore area for 20 minutes three or four times a day to relieve your symptoms. Often a doctor will prescribe a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Home exercises to stretch your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are the mainstay of treatment and reduce the chance of recurrence.
Surgery is considered only after 12 months of aggressive nonsurgical treatment. Gastrocnemius recession. This is a surgical lengthening of the calf (gastrocnemius) muscles. Because tight calf muscles place increased stress on the plantar fascia, this procedure is useful for patients who still have difficulty flexing their feet, despite a year of calf stretches. In gastrocnemius recession, one of the two muscles that make up the calf is lengthened to increase the motion of the ankle. The procedure can be performed with a traditional, open incision or with a smaller incision and an endoscope, an instrument that contains a small camera. Your doctor will discuss the procedure that best meets your needs. Complication rates for gastrocnemius recession are low, but can include nerve damage. Plantar fascia release. If you have a normal range of ankle motion and continued heel pain, your doctor may recommend a partial release procedure. During surgery, the plantar fascia ligament is partially cut to relieve tension in the tissue. If you have a large bone spur, it will be removed, as well. Although the surgery can be performed endoscopically, it is more difficult than with an open incision. In addition, endoscopy has a higher risk of nerve damage.
Maintain a healthy weight. This minimizes the stress on your plantar fascia. Choose supportive shoes. Avoid high heels. Buy shoes with a low to moderate heel, good arch support and shock absorbency. Don’t go barefoot, especially on hard surfaces. Don’t wear worn-out athletic shoes. Replace your old athletic shoes before they stop supporting and cushioning your feet. If you’re a runner, buy new shoes after about 500 miles of use. Change your sport. Try a low-impact sport, such as swimming or bicycling, instead of walking or jogging. Apply ice. Hold a cloth-covered ice pack over the area of pain for 15 to 20 minutes three or four times a day or after activity. Or try ice massage. Freeze a water-filled paper cup and roll it over the site of discomfort for about five to seven minutes. Regular ice massage can help reduce pain and inflammation. Stretch your arches. Simple home exercises can stretch your plantar fascia, Achilles tendon and calf muscles.