The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that runs along the underneath of the foot from the heel bone to the toes. At the heel it can also have fascial connections to the achilles tendon. Its job is to maintain the arch of the foot, it acts as a bowstring pulled between the heel and the toes. “Itis” as a suffix indicates inflammation, but with the plantar fascia there is still some controversy over what exactly happens to the tissue when it becomes painful.
Factors which may contribute to plantar fasciitis and heel spurs include a sudden increase in daily activities, increase in weight (not usually a problem with runners), or a change of shoes. Dramatic increase in training intensity or duration may cause plantar fasciitis. Shoes that are too flexible in the middle of the arch or shoes that bend before the toe joints will cause an increase in tension in the plantar fascia. Even though you may have run in shoes that are flexible before, now that you have developed plantar fasciitis, make certain that your shoe is stable and does not bend in the midfoot. Check and be certain that your shoes are not excessively worn. Shoes that do not sufficiently control excessive pronation combined with an increase in training can lead to this condition. A change in running style or parameters, such as starting speed work, running on the ball of your foot or sudden increase in hill workouts may lead to problems. All changes should be gradual and not abrupt. Gait changes such as altering your foot strike, switching shoe style, running barefoot or in minimalist shoes should all be made gradually and not abruptly. The “terrible too’s” of too much, too soon, too often with too little rest also applies to “too many changes with too little adaptation”. Make your changes gradually and allow your muscles, bones, and other body structures to adapt to the alterations you may be attempting.
Plantar fasciosis is characterized by pain at the bottom of the heel with weight bearing, particularly when first arising in the morning; pain usually abates within 5 to 10 min, only to return later in the day. It is often worse when pushing off of the heel (the propulsive phase of gait) and after periods of rest. Acute, severe heel pain, especially with mild local puffiness, may indicate an acute fascial tear. Some patients describe burning or sticking pain along the plantar medial border of the foot when walking.
Plantar fasciosis is confirmed if firm thumb pressure applied to the calcaneus when the foot is dorsiflexed elicits pain. Fascial pain along the plantar medial border of the fascia may also be present. If findings are equivocal, demonstration of a heel spur on x-ray may support the diagnosis; however, absence does not rule out the diagnosis, and visible spurs are not generally the cause of symptoms. Also, infrequently, calcaneal spurs appear ill defined on x-ray, exhibiting fluffy new bone formation, suggesting spondyloarthropathy (eg, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis. If an acute fascial tear is suspected, MRI is done.
Non Surgical Treatment
Sometimes physical therapy modalities are helpful. The most frequently used modalities include ultrasound (high frequency sound vibrations that create a deep heat and reduce inflammation) and galvanic electrical stimulation ( a carefully applied intermittent muscular stimulation to the heel and calf that helps reduce pain and relax muscle spasm, which is a contributing factor to the pain). This treatment has been found most effective when given twice a week. Repeated taping and padding is sometimes used. The felt pads that will be strapped to your feet will compress after a few days and must be reapplied. While wearing them they should be kept dry, but may be removed the night before your next appointment. Resistant cases of heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis, heel spurs or cases of stress fracture of the calcaneus often need to be placed in a removable below knee cast boot. It is important to be aware of how your foot feels over this time period. If your foot is still uncomfortable without the strapping, but was more comfortable while wearing it, that is an indication that the treatment should help. Remember, what took many months or years to develop can not be eliminated in just a few days.
Surgery is rarely needed in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. The vast majority of patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis will recover given ample time. With some basic treatment steps, well over 90% of patients will achieve full recovery from symptoms of plantar fasciitis within one year of the onset of treatment. Simple treatments include anti-inflammatory medication, shoe inserts, and stretching exercises. In patients where a good effort with these treatments fails to provide adequate relief, some more aggressive treatments may be attempted. These include cortisone injections or extracorporeal shock wave treatments.
While it’s typical to experience pain in just one foot, massage and stretch both feet. Do it first thing in the morning, and three times during the day. Achilles Tendon Stretch. Stand with your affected foot behind your healthy one. Point the toes of the back foot toward the heel of the front foot, and lean into a wall. Bend the front knee and keep the back knee straight, heel firmly planted on the floor. Hold for a count of 10. Plantar Fascia Stretch. Sit down, and place the affected foot across your knee. Using the hand on your affected side, pull your toes back toward your shin until you feel a stretch in your arch. Run your thumb along your foot–you should feel tension. Hold for a count of 10.