Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain in adults. The pain is usually caused by collagen degeneration (which is sometimes misnamed “chronic inflammation”) at the origin of the plantar fascia at the medial tubercle of the calcaneus. This degeneration is similar to the chronic necrosis of tendonosis, which features loss of collagen continuity, increases in ground substance (matrix of connective tissue) and vascularity, and the presence of fibro-blasts rather than the inflammatory cells usually seen with the acute inflammation of tendonitis. The cause of the degeneration is repetitive microtears of the plantar fascia that overcome the body’s ability to repair itself.
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.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the bottom of your foot, especially at the front or centre of the heel bone, pain that is worse when first rising in the morning (called “first-step pain”), when first standing up after any long period of sitting, or after increased levels of activity especially in non-supportive shoes. Seek medical advice about plantar fasciitis if you have heel pain or pain in the bottom of your foot, especially when you get up in the morning, that does not respond to treatment or if there is redness or bruising in the heel.
To arrive at a diagnosis, the foot and ankle surgeon will obtain your medical history and examine your foot. Throughout this process the surgeon rules out all the possible causes for your heel pain other than plantar fasciitis. In addition, diagnostic imaging studies such as x-rays or other imaging modalities may be used to distinguish the different types of heel pain. Sometimes heel spurs are found in patients with plantar fasciitis, but these are rarely a source of pain. When they are present, the condition may be diagnosed as plantar fasciitis/heel spur syndrome.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your health care provider will often recommend these steps first Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) to reduce pain and inflammation. Heel and foot stretching exercises. Night splints to wear while sleeping to stretch the foot. Resting as much as possible for at least a week. Wearing shoes with good support and cushions. Other steps to relieve pain include aply ice to the painful area. Do this at least twice a day for 10 – 15 minutes, more often in the first couple of days. Try wearing a heel cup, felt pads in the heel area, or shoe inserts. Use night splints to stretch the injured fascia and allow it to heal. If these treatments do not work, your health care provider may recommend waring a boot cast, which looks like a ski boot, for 3 – 6 weeks. It can be removed for bathing. Custom-made shoe inserts (orthotics). Steroid shots or injections into the heel. Smetimes, foot surgery is needed.
In unusual cases, surgical intervention is necessary for relief of pain. These should only be employed after non-surgical efforts have been used without relief. Generally, such surgical procedures may be completed on an outpatient basis in less than one hour, using local anesthesia or minimal sedation administrated by a trained anesthesiologist. In such cases, the surgeon may remove or release the injured and inflamed fascia, after a small incision is made in the heel. A surgical procedure may also be undertaken to remove bone spurs, sometimes as part of the same surgery addressing the damaged tissue. A cast may be used to immobilize the foot following surgery and crutches provided in order to allow greater mobility while keeping weight off the recovering foot during healing. After removal of the cast, several weeks of physical therapy can be used to speed recovery, reduce swelling and restore flexibility.
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.