Plantar fasciitis, also called “heel pain syndrome,” affects approximately 2 million people in the United States each year. Plantar fasciitis can come on gradually as the result of a degenerative process or sudden foot trauma. It can appear in one heel or both. It is generally worse on taking the first few steps in the morning or after prolonged sitting or non-weight-bearing movement. Symptoms can be aggravated by activity and prolonged weight bearing. Obesity, too, is hard on the feet-it can cause plantar pain or it can make that pain worse. The plantar fascia connects the calcaneal tubercle to the forefoot with five slips directed to each toe respectively. Other conditions, such as calcaneal fat pad atrophy, calcaneal stress fracture, nerve entrapment, and rheumatoid arthritis may also cause foot pain. These conditions may be found in combination with plantar fasciitis, or separate from it. A blood test can help pinpoint the cause(s).
A number of factors can contribute to plantar fasciitis. While men can get plantar fasciitis, it is more common in women. You’re also more likely to have this condition as you age or if you are overweight. Take up a new form of exercise or suddenly increase the intensity of your exercise. Are on your feet for several hours each day. Have other medical conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus). Tend to wear high-heeled shoes, and then switch abruptly to flat shoes. Wear shoes that are worn out with weak arch supports and thin soles. Have flat feet or an unusually high arch. Have legs of uneven lengths or an abnormal walk or foot position. Have tight achilles tendons, or ‘heel cords’.
Plantar fasciitis is usually found in one foot. While bilateral plantar fasciitis is not unheard of, this condition is more the result of a systemic arthritic condition that is extremely rare in an athletic population. There is a greater incidence of plantar fasciitis in males than females (Ambrosius 1992). While no direct cause could be found it could be argued that males are generally heavier which, when combined with the greater speeds, increased ground contact forces, and less flexibility, may explain the greater injury predisposition. The most notable characteristic of plantar fasciitis is pain upon rising, particularly the first step out of bed. This morning pain can be located with pinpoint accuracy at the bony landmark on the anterior medial tubercle of the calcaneus. The pain may be severe enough to prevent the athlete from walking barefooted in a normal heel-toe gait. Other less common presentations include referred pain to the subtalar joint, the forefoot, the arch of the foot or the achilles tendon (Brantingham 1992). After several minutes of walking the pain usually subsides only to re turn with the vigorous activity of the day’s training session. The problem should be obvious to the coach as the athlete will exhibit altered gait and/ or an abnormal stride pattern, and may complain of foot pain during running/jumping activities. Consistent with plantar fascia problems the athlete will have a shortened gastroc complex. This can be evidenced by poor dorsiflexion (lifting the forefoot off the ground) or inability to perform the “flying frog” position. In the flying frog the athlete goes into a full squat position and maintains balance and full ground contact with the sole of the foot. Elevation of the heel signifies a tight gastroc complex. This test can be done with the training shoes on.
Your doctor can usually diagnose plantar fasciitis just by talking to you and examining your feet. Rarely, tests are needed if the diagnosis is uncertain or to rule out other possible causes of heel pain. These can include X-rays of the heel or an ultrasound scan of the fascia. An ultrasound scan usually shows thickening and swelling of the fascia in plantar fasciitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Your doctor will determine what treatment is best for your condition. The most common treatments for plantar fasciitis include icing the affected area, inserting custom-made orthotics into your shoes, massaging the plantar fascia, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroid injections, strengthening the foot, wearing a night splint, wearing shoes with arch support, physical therapy, stretching the calf muscles, shockwave therapy or radiotherapy. To keep the plantar fascia lengthened as you sleep, your doctor may ask you to wear night splints. In the morning, taking your first steps is less painful because the plantar fascia remains stretched throughout the night. Avoiding activities such as walking or running helps the healing process. Losing weight, if it is a factor in the condition, may help to reduce the stress placed on the plantar fascia.
Surgery is not a common treatment for this condition. Approximately 5% of people with plantar fasciitis require surgery if non-surgical methods do not help to relieve pain within a year. The surgical procedure involves making an incision in the plantar fascia in order to decrease the tension of the ligament. Potential risks of this surgical procedure include irritation of the nerves around the heel, continued plantar fasciitis, heel or foot pain, infection, flattening of the arch, problems relating to the anesthetic.