Plantar fasciitis is a common foot disorder that affects more than two million people every year, especially runners. It is inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot. The most common area of pain is directly on the bottom of the heel, although some people may only have pain in the arch of the foot. Diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is typically done through a physical examination, which includes listening to the patient history, palpation of the heel and possibly x-rays.
You are at a greater risk for developing plantar fasciitis if you are overweight or obese. This is due to the increased pressure on your plantar fascia ligaments, especially if you have sudden weight gain. Women who are pregnant often experience bouts of plantar fasciitis, particularly during late pregnancy. If you are a long distance runner, you may be more likely to develop plantar fascia problems. You are also at risk if you have a very active job that involves being on your feet often, such as a factory worker or a restaurant server. Active men and women between the ages of 40 and 70 are at the highest risk for developing plantar fasciitis. It is also slightly more common in women than men. If you have foot problems, such as very high arches or very flat feet, you may develop plantar fasciitis. Tight Achilles tendons (the tendons attaching the calf muscles to the heels) may also result in plantar fascia pain. Simply wearing shoes with soft soles and poor arch support can also result in plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is not caused by heel spurs. A heel spur is a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone (calcaneus) of the foot. One out of every 10 people has a heel spur, but only one out of 20 people with heel spurs experience pain, according to OrthoInfo.
The major complaint of those with plantar fasciitis is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. This develops gradually over time. It usually affects just one foot, but can affect both feet. Some people describe the pain as dull, while others experience a sharp pain, and some feel a burning or ache on the bottom of the foot extending outward from the heel. The pain is usually worse in the morning when you take your first steps out of bed, or if you’ve been sitting or lying down for a while. Climbing stairs can be very difficult due to the heel stiffness. After prolonged activity, the pain can flare-up due to increased inflammation. Pain is not usually felt during the activity, but rather just after stopping.
Plantar fasciitis is usually diagnosed by a health care provider after consideration of a person’s presenting history, risk factors, and clinical examination. Tenderness to palpation along the inner aspect of the heel bone on the sole of the foot may be elicited during the physical examination. The foot may have limited dorsiflexion due to tightness of the calf muscles or the Achilles tendon. Dorsiflexion of the foot may elicit the pain due to stretching of the plantar fascia with this motion. Diagnostic imaging studies are not usually needed to diagnose plantar fasciitis. However, in certain cases a physician may decide imaging studies (such as X-rays, diagnostic ultrasound or MRI) are warranted to rule out other serious causes of foot pain. Bilateral heel pain or heel pain in the context of a systemic illness may indicate a need for a more in-depth diagnostic investigation. Lateral view x-rays of the ankle are the recommended first-line imaging modality to assess for other causes of heel pain such as stress fractures or bone spur development. Plantar fascia aponeurosis thickening at the heel greater than 5 millimeters as demonstrated by ultrasound is consistent with a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis. An incidental finding associated with this condition is a heel spur, a small bony calcification on the calcaneus (heel bone), which can be found in up to 50% of those with plantar fasciitis. In such cases, it is the underlying plantar fasciitis that produces the heel pain, and not the spur itself. The condition is responsible for the creation of the spur though the clinical significance of heel spurs in plantar fasciitis remains unclear.
Non Surgical Treatment
Most people who have plantar fasciitis recover with conservative treatments in just a few months. Pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and naproxen (Aleve) may ease the pain and inflammation associated with plantar fasciitis. Stretching and strengthening exercises or use of specialized devices may provide symptom relief. These include physical therapy. A physical therapist can instruct you in a series of exercises to stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon and to strengthen lower leg muscles, which stabilize your ankle and heel. A therapist may also teach you to apply athletic taping to support the bottom of your foot. Night splints. Your physical therapist or doctor may recommend wearing a splint that stretches your calf and the arch of your foot while you sleep. This holds the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon in a lengthened position overnight and facilitates stretching. Orthotics. Your doctor may prescribe off-the-shelf heel cups, cushions or custom-fitted arch supports (orthotics) to help distribute pressure to your feet more evenly.
In cases that do not respond to any conservative treatment, surgical release of the plantar fascia may be considered. Plantar fasciotomy may be performed using open, endoscopic or radiofrequency lesioning techniques. Overall, the success rate of surgical release is 70 to 90 percent in patients with plantar fasciitis. Potential risk factors include flattening of the longitudinal arch and heel hypoesthesia as well as the potential complications associated with rupture of the plantar fascia and complications related to anesthesia.
In one exercise, you lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and heel on the ground. Your other knee is bent. Your heel cord and foot arch stretch as you lean. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times for each sore heel. It is important to keep the knee fully extended on the side being stretched. In another exercise, you lean forward onto a countertop, spreading your feet apart with one foot in front of the other. Flex your knees and squat down, keeping your heels on the ground as long as possible. Your heel cords and foot arches will stretch as the heels come up in the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times. About 90 percent of people with plantar fasciitis improve significantly after two months of initial treatment. You may be advised to use shoes with shock-absorbing soles or fitted with an off-the-shelf shoe insert device like a rubber heel pad. Your foot may be taped into a specific position. If your plantar fasciitis continues after a few months of conservative treatment, your doctor may inject your heel with steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. If you still have symptoms, you may need to wear a walking cast for two to three weeks or a positional splint when you sleep. In a few cases, surgery is needed for chronically contracted tissue.