Plantar fasciitis is a painful inflammatory process of the plantar fascia, a thick fibrous band of connective tissue originating on the bottom surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the five toes. Pain in the arch or heel often indicates inflammation of the long band of tissue under the foot (the plantar fascia). It can cause sharp pain and discomfort in either the mid arch region or at the inside heel, and less commonly the outside heel. It frequently causes pain upon rising from rest (especially first thing in the morning) and can progress to agony by the end of the day. Although plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of this pain, it must be skilfully differentially diagnosed from other conditions via a thorough history taking and physical examination.
Plantar Fasciitis is caused by abnormal pronation of the foot. Contributing factors are obesity, weight gain, jobs that require a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces, badly worn shoes with little support, and also inactivity. As a result of over-pronation, with every step the Plantar Fascia (band of tissue under the foot) is being stretched, resulting in inflammation, irritation and pain at the attachment of the fascia into the heel bone. In some cases the pain is felt under the foot, in the arch. Continuous pulling of the fascia at the heel bone, eventually may lead to the development of bony growth on the heel. This is called a heel spur. When you’re at rest, such as while sleeping, the Plantar Fascia tightens and shortens. When body weight is rapidly applied to the foot, the Fascia must stretch and quickly lengthen, causing micro-tears in the Fascia. As a result, the foot pain is more severe with your first steps in the morning, or after sitting for a long period. Plantar Fasciitis is more likely to happen if you suffer from over-pronation (flattening of the arch), you stand or walk on hard surfaces, for long periods, you are overweight or pregnant, you have tight calf muscles.
Plantar fasciitis commonly causes a stabbing pain in the heel of the foot, which is worse during the first few steps of the day after awakening. As you continue to walk on the affected foot, the pain gradually lessens. Usually, only one foot is affected, but it can occur in both feet simultaneously.
After you describe your symptoms and discuss your concerns, your doctor will examine your foot. Your doctor will look for these signs. A high arch, an area of maximum tenderness on the bottom of your foot, just in front of your heel bone. Pain that gets worse when you flex your foot and the doctor pushes on the plantar fascia. The pain improves when you point your toes down. Limited “up” motion of your ankle. Your doctor may order imaging tests to help make sure your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis and not another problem. X-rays provide clear images of bones. They are useful in ruling out other causes of heel pain, such as fractures or arthritis. Heel spurs can be seen on an x-ray. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, are not routinely used to diagnose plantar fasciitis. They are rarely ordered. An MRI scan may be used if the heel pain is not relieved by initial treatment methods.
Non Surgical Treatment
Give your painful heel lots of rest. You may need to stay completely off your foot for several days when the pain is severe. Your healthcare provider may recommend or prescribe anti-inflammatory medicines, such as aspirin or ibuprofen. These drugs decrease pain and inflammation. Adults aged 65 years and older should not take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine for more than 7 days without their healthcare provider’s approval. Resting your heel on an ice pack for a few minutes several times a day can also help. Try to cushion your foot. You can do this by wearing athletic shoes, even at work, for awhile. Heel cushions can also be used. The cushions should be worn in both shoes. They are most helpful if you are overweight or an older adult. Your provider may recommend special arch supports or inserts for your shoes called orthotics, either custom-made or off the shelf. These supports can be particularly helpful if you have flat feet or high arches. Your provider may recommend an injection of a cortisone-like medicine. Lose weight if needed. A night splint may be recommended. This will keep the plantar fascia stretched while you are sleeping. Physical therapy for additional treatments may be recommended. Surgery is rarely needed.
If treatment hasn’t worked and you still have painful symptoms after a year, your GP may refer you to either an orthopaedic surgeon, a surgeon who specialises in surgery that involves bones, muscles and joints, a podiatric surgeon, a podiatrist who specialises in foot surgery. Surgery is sometimes recommended for professional athletes and other sportspeople whose heel pain is adversely affecting their career. Plantar release surgery. Plantar release surgery is the most widely used type of surgery for heel pain. The surgeon will cut the fascia to release it from your heel bone and reduce the tension in your plantar fascia. This should reduce any inflammation and relieve your painful symptoms. Surgery can be performed either as, open surgery, where the section of the plantar fascia is released by making a cut into your heel, endoscopic or minimal incision surgery – where a smaller incision is made and special instruments are inserted through the incision to gain access to the plantar fascia. Endoscopic or minimal incision surgery has a quicker recovery time, so you will be able to walk normally much sooner (almost immediately), compared with two to three weeks for open surgery. A disadvantage of endoscopic surgery is that it requires both a specially trained surgical team and specialised equipment, so you may have to wait longer for treatment than if you were to choose open surgery. Endoscopic surgery also carries a higher risk of damaging nearby nerves, which could result in symptoms such as numbness, tingling or some loss of movement in your foot. As with all surgery, plantar release carries the risk of causing complications such as infection, nerve damage and a worsening of your symptoms after surgery (although this is rare). You should discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both techniques with your surgical team. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (EST) is a fairly new type of non-invasive treatment. Non-invasive means it does not involve making cuts into your body. EST involves using a device to deliver high-energy soundwaves into your heel. The soundwaves can sometimes cause pain, so a local anaesthetic may be used to numb your heel. It is claimed that EST works in two ways. It is thought to, have a “numbing” effect on the nerves that transmit pain signals to your brain, help stimulate and speed up the healing process. However, these claims have not yet been definitively proven. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has issued guidance about the use of EST for treating plantar fasciitis. NICE states there are no concerns over the safety of EST, but there are uncertainties about how effective the procedure is for treating heel pain. Some studies have reported that EST is more effective than surgery and other non-surgical treatments, while other studies found the procedure to be no better than a placebo (sham treatment).
Being overweight can place excess pressure and strain on your feet, particularly on your heels. Losing weight, and maintaining a healthy weight by combining regular exercise with a healthy, balanced diet, can be beneficial for your feet. Wearing appropriate footwear is also important. Ideally, you should wear shoes with a low to moderate heel that supports and cushions your arches and heels. Avoid wearing shoes with no heels.