The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot that helps form the arch of the foot. Acute injury or cumulative trauma to the plantar fascia can be a cause of inflammation and heel pain. This is called plantar fasciitis.
When the foot moves, the plantar fascia stretches and contracts. Plantar fasciitis is caused by the repetitive overstretching of the plantar fascia. If the tension on the plantar fascia is too great, this overstretching causes small tears in the plantar fascia. This in turn causes the plantar fascia to become inflamed and painful. Factors that contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis include having very high arches or flat feet, gender, while anyone can develop plantar fasciitis, it tends to occur more commonly in women, exercises such as running, walking and dancing, particularly if the calf muscles are tight. Activities or occupations that involve walking or standing for long periods of time, particularly on hard surfaces, wearing high heeled shoes or shoes that do not offer adequate arch support and cushioning, being overweight, additional weight increases the tension on the plantar fascia, poor biomechanics, extra tension is placed on the plantar fascia if weight is not spread evenly when standing, walking or running. Some cases of plantar fasciitis may be linked to underlying diseases that cause arthritis, such as ankylosing spondylitis.
Patients with plantar fasciitis typically experience pain underneath the heel and along the inner sole of the foot. In less severe cases, patients may only experience an ache or stiffness in the plantar fascia or heel that increases with rest (typically at night or first thing in the morning) following activities which place stress on the plantar fascia. These activities typically include standing, walking or running excessively (especially up hills, on uneven surfaces or in poor footwear such as thongs), jumping, hopping and general weight bearing activity. The pain associated with this condition may also warm up with activity in the initial stages of injury. As the condition progresses, patients may experience symptoms that increase during sport or activity, affecting performance. In severe cases, patients may walk with a limp or be unable to weight bear on the affected leg. Patients with this condition may also experience swelling, tenderness on firmly touching the plantar fascia (often on a specific spot on the inner aspect of the heel) and sometimes pain on performing a plantar fascia stretch.
A health care professional will ask you whether you have the classic symptoms of first-step pain and about your activities, including whether you recently have intensified your training or changed your exercise pattern. Your doctor often can diagnose plantar fasciitis based on your history and symptoms, together with a physical examination. If the diagnosis is in doubt, your doctor may order a foot X-ray, bone scan or nerve conduction studies to rule out another condition, such as a stress fracture or nerve problem.
Non Surgical Treatment
A steroid (cortisone) injection is sometimes tried if your pain remains bad despite the above 'conservative' measures. It may relieve the pain in some people for several weeks but does not always cure the problem. It is not always successful and may be sore to have done. Steroids work by reducing inflammation. Sometimes two or three injections are tried over a period of weeks if the first is not successful. Steroid injections do carry some risks, including (rarely) tearing (rupture) of the plantar fascia. Extracorporeal shock-wave therapy. In extracorporeal shock-wave therapy, a machine is used to deliver high-energy sound waves through your skin to the painful area on your foot. It is not known exactly how it works, but it is thought that it might stimulate healing of your plantar fascia. One or more sessions of treatment may be needed. This procedure appears to be safe but it is uncertain how well it works. This is mostly because of a lack of large, well-designed clinical trials. You should have a full discussion with your doctor about the potential benefits and risks. In studies, most people who have had extracorporeal shock-wave therapy have little in the way of problems. However, possible problems that can occur include pain during treatment, skin reddening, and swelling of your foot or bruising. Another theoretical problem could include the condition getting worse because of rupture of your plantar fascia or damage to the tissues in your foot. More research into extracorporeal shock-wave therapy for plantar fasciitis is needed. Other treatments. Various studies and trials have been carried out looking at other possible treatments for plantar fasciitis. Such treatments include injection with botulinum toxin and treatment of the plantar fascia with radiotherapy. These treatments may not be widely available. Some people benefit from wearing a special splint overnight to keep their Achilles tendon and plantar fascia slightly stretched. The aim is to prevent the plantar fascia from tightening up overnight. In very difficult cases, sometimes a plaster cast or a removable walking brace is put on the lower leg. This provides rest, protection, cushioning and slight stretching of the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon. However, the evidence for the use of splint treatment of plantar fasciitis is limited.
When more-conservative measures aren't working, your doctor might recommend steroid shots. Injecting a type of steroid medication into the tender area can provide temporary pain relief. Multiple injections aren't recommended because they can weaken your plantar fascia and possibly cause it to rupture, as well as shrink the fat pad covering your heel bone. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy. In this procedure, sound waves are directed at the area of heel pain to stimulate healing. It's usually used for chronic plantar fasciitis that hasn't responded to more-conservative treatments. This procedure may cause bruises, swelling, pain, numbness or tingling and has not been shown to be consistently effective. Surgery. Few people need surgery to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone. It's generally an option only when the pain is severe and all else fails. Side effects include a weakening of the arch in your foot.