What Is Plantar Fasciitis

Heel Discomfort

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition causing heel pain and many people with the condition also have heel spurs. It affects the band of tissue (plantar fascia) that supports the middle part of the foot and runs along the sole of the foot from the heel to the ball of the foot. Usually the plantar fascia is strong and flexible but due to certain factors it can become irritated and inflamed where the plantar fascia joins the bone in the foot. Heel spurs occur when there’s constant pulling of the fascia at the heel bone. This leads to a bony growth or spur. The symptoms of plantar fasciitis are pain in the arch of the foot or heel. This pain is usually worse in the morning after rest when the plantar fascia tightens and shortens. Heel spurs cause a stabbing pain at the bottom or front of the heel bone.


Causes

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, accounting for around four out of five cases. Plantar fasciitis is when the thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone with the rest of the foot (the plantar fascia) becomes damaged and thickened. Damage to the plantar fascia is thought to occur following sudden damage, for example, damaging your heel while jogging, running or dancing; this type of damage usually affects younger people who are physically active, gradual wear and tear of the tissues that make up the plantar fascia – this usually affects adults who are 40 years of age or over. You are at an increased risk of gradual wear and tear damaging your plantar fasciitis if you are overweight or obese, if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over, you are considered to be obese, have a job that involves spending long periods of time standing, wear flat-soled shoes, such as sandals or flip flops. Less common causes of heel pain are a stress fracture. A stress fracture can occur if your heel bone is damaged during an injury. Fat pad atrophy. Fat pad atrophy is where the layer of fat that lies under the heel bone, known as the fat pad, starts to waste away due to too much strain being placed on the pad. Women who wear high-heeled shoes for many years have an increased risk of developing fat pad atrophy. Bursitis. Bursitis is inflammation of one or more bursa (small fluid-filled sacs under the skin, usually found over the joints and between tendons and bones). It’s possible to develop bursitis anywhere inside the body, not just in the foot. Tarsal tunnel syndrome. The nerves in the sole of your foot pass through a small tunnel on the inside of the ankle joint, known as the tarsal tunnel. If a cyst forms or the tunnel is damaged, the nerves can become compressed (squashed). This can cause pain anywhere along the nerve, including beneath your heel. Sever’s disease. Sever’s disease is a common cause of heel pain in children. It’s caused by the muscles and tendons of the hamstrings and calves stretching and tightening in response to growth spurts. The stretching of the calf muscle pulls on the Achilles tendon. This pulls on the growing area of bone at the back of the heel (growth plate), causing pain in the heel. The pain is further aggravated by activities such as football and gymnastics. The pain often develops at the side of the heel, but can also be felt under the heel. Calf and hamstring stretches and, if necessary, heel pads are usually effective treatments for Sever’s disease. Bone spurs. Bone spurs are an excess growth of bone that forms on a normal bone. Bone spurs can develop on the heel (a heel spur) and are more common in people with heel pain. However, they can also occur in people without heel pain. A heel spur does not cause heel pain.


Symptoms

Plantar fasciitis typically causes a stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot near the heel. The pain is usually worst with the first few steps after awakening, although it can also be triggered by long periods of standing or getting up from a seated position.


Diagnosis

Your doctor will perform a physical exam to check for tenderness in your foot and the exact location of the pain to make sure that it’s not caused by a different foot problem. The doctor may ask you to flex your foot while he or she pushes on the plantar fascia to see if the pain gets worse as you flex and better as you point your toe. Mild redness or swelling will also be noted. Your doctor will evaluate the strength of your muscles and the health of your nerves by checking your reflexes, your muscle tone, your sense of touch and sight, your coordination, and your balance. X-rays or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan may be ordered to check that nothing else is causing your heel pain, such as a bone fracture.


Non Surgical Treatment

Plantar fasciitis is usually controlled with conservative treatment. Following control of the pain and inflammation an orthotic (a custom made shoe insert) will be used to stabilize your foot and prevent a recurrence. Over 98% of the time heel spurs and plantar fasciitis can be controlled by this treatment and surgery can be avoided. The orthotic prevents excess pronation and prevents lengthening of the plantar fascia and continued tearing of the fascia. Usually a slight heel lift and a firm shank in the shoe will also help to reduce the severity of this problem. The office visit will be used for careful examination and review to distinguish plantar fasciitis and plantar heel pain syndrome from other problems, many of which are outlined below. It is important to distinguish between a stress reaction of the calcaneus and plantar fasciitis. A feature of many calcaneal stress fractures is pain on lateral and medial compression of the calcaneus.

Plantar Fascia


Surgical Treatment

In very rare cases plantar fascia surgery is suggested, as a last resort. In this case the surgeon makes an incision into the ligament, partially cutting the plantar fascia to release it. If a heel spur is present, the surgeon will remove it. Plantar Fasciitis surgery should always be considered the last resort when all the conventional treatment methods have failed to succeed. Endoscopic plantar fasciotomy (EPF) is a form of surgery whereby two incisions are made around the heel and the ligament is being detached from the heel bone allowing the new ligament to develop in the same place. In some cases the surgeon may decide to remove the heel spur itself, if present. Just like any type of surgery, Plantar Fascia surgery comes with certain risks and side effects. For example, the arch of the foot may drop and become weak. Wearing an arch support after surgery is therefore recommended. Heel spur surgeries may also do some damage to veins and arteries of your foot that allow blood supply in the area. This will increase the time of recovery.


Stretching Exercises

Stretching your plantar fasciitis is something you can do at home to relieve pain and speed healing. Ice massage performed three to four times per day in 15 to 20 minute intervals is also something you can do to reduce inflammation and pain. Placing arch supports in your shoes absorbs shock and takes pressure off the plantar fascia.

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