What Triggers Heel Discomfort

Plantar Fasciitis

Overview

Plantar fasciitis was previously believed to be inflammation of the fascia near its insertion on the heel bone. The suffix (-itis) means inflammation. Studies, however, reveal that changes in the tissue associated with the injury are degenerative and not related to inflammation, at least not in the way most people typically think of inflammation. Sudden onset of heel pain may indeed be related to acute inflammation. For persistent heel pain the condition more closely resembles long-standing degeneration of the plantar fascia near its attachment than inflammation. This could explain why anti-inflammatory medications and injections have been unsuccessful at treating it. But there is more to heel pain than just the plantar fascia.


Causes

It is common to see patients with Plantar Fasciitis who have been wearing shoes that are too soft and flexible. The lack of support can be stressful on the heel for those patients who’s feet aren’t particularly stable. If these ill fitting shoes are worn for long enough, the stress will lead to Heel Pain as the inflammation of the fascia persists. Footwear assessment and advice will be essential in order to get on top of the Plantar Fasciitis. It may surprise some people to learn that high heeled shoes are not the cause of Plantar Fasciitis, although they can cause tight calf muscles. High arches can lead to Plantar Fasciitis. This is due to the lack of contact under the sole of the foot. Even sports shoes which appear to have good arch support inside are often too soft and not high enough to make contact with the arch of the foot. Hence, the plantar fascia is unsupported. This can lead to Heel pain and Plantar Fasciitis. Flat feet can lead to Plantar Fasciitis. Flat feet is caused by ligament laxity and leads to foot instability. Other structures such as muscles, tendons and fascia work harder to compensate for this instability. Heel pain or Plantar Fasciitis arises when the instability is too great for these other structures to cope with. The strain on the fascia is too severe and the inflammation sets in. Over stretching can lead to Plantar Fasciitis. Certain calf stretches put the foot into a position that creates a pulling sensation through the sole of the foot. This can cause Plantar Fasciitis which can cause pain in the arch of the foot as well as Heel Pain.


Symptoms

The classic sign of plantar fasciitis is that the worst pain occurs with the first few steps in the morning, but not every patient will have this symptom. Patients often notice pain at the beginning of activity that lessens or resolves as they warm up. The pain may also occur with prolonged standing and is sometimes accompanied by stiffness. In more severe cases, the pain will also worsen toward the end of the day.


Diagnosis

Most cases of plantar fasciitis are diagnosed by a health care provider who listens carefully to your description of symptoms. During an examination of your feet, your health care provider will have to press on the bottom of your feet, the area most likely to be painful in plantar fasciitis. Because the pain of plantar fasciitis has unique characteristics, pain upon rising, improvement after walking for several minutes, pain produced by pressure applied in a specific location on your foot but not with pressure in other areas, your health care provider will probably feel comfortable making the diagnosis based on your symptoms and a physical examination. Your health care provider may suggest that you have an X-ray of your foot to verify that there is no stress fracture causing your pain.


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.

Plantar Fascitis


Surgical Treatment

Like every surgical procedure, plantar fasciitis surgery carries some risks. Because of these risks your doctor will probably advise you to continue with the conventional treatments at least 6 months before giving you approval for surgery. Some health experts recommend home treatment as long as 12 months. If you can’t work because of your heel pain, can’t perform your everyday activities or your athletic career is in danger, you may consider a plantar fasciitis surgery earlier. But keep in mind that there is no guarantee that the pain will go away completely after surgery. Surgery is effective in many cases, however, 20 to 25 percent of patients continue to experience heel pain after having a plantar fasciitis surgery.


Prevention

You can help to prevent plantar fasciitis by maintaining a healthy weight, by warming up before participating in sports and by wearing shoes that support the arch and cushion the heel. In people who are prone to episodes of plantar fasciitis, exercises that stretch the heel cord (known as the Achilles tendon) and the plantar fascia may help to prevent plantar fasciitis from returning. Ice massage also can be used on the bottom of the foot after stressful athletic activities. It is possible that strict control of blood sugar will prevent plantar fasciitis in people with diabetes, although this has not been proven.

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