The job of the plantar fascia is to aid the foot’s bone structure to absorb shock that happens during your gait (walking pattern). Even though it goes against common perception you can have a high-arch foot and get plantar fasciitis as well as the more common low-arch foot posture associated with PF – tightness doesn’t discriminate! The plantar fascia is involved in stabilizing your foot not only at heel strike, when most people experience pain, but also right through until the foot leaves the ground after the stress has moved from the back of the foot to the big and lesser toes as you ‘push off’ – all this increases the stress on the plantar fascia and not just at the point where it is attached to the heel bone. What most people, even medical professionals, don’t realise is that is has been happening for a long time before it becomes evident (you only notice it when your heel starts to hurt when you stand and move).
Plantar fasciitis symptoms are usually exacerbated via “traction” (or stretching) forces on the plantar fascia. In simple terms, you plantar fascia is repeatedly overstretched. The most common reason for the overstretching are an elongated arch due to either poor foot biomechanics (eg overpronation) or weakness of your foot arch muscles. Compression type plantar fascia injuries have a traumatic history. Landing on a sharp object that bruises your plantar fascia is your most likely truma. The location of plantar fasciitis pain will be further under your arch than under your heel, which is more likely to be a fat pad contusion if a single trauma caused your pain. The compression type plantar fasciitis can confused with a fat pad contusion that is often described as a “stone bruise”.
Patients experience intense sharp pain with the first few steps in the morning or following long periods of having no weight on the foot. The pain can also be aggravated by prolonged standing or sitting. The pain is usually experienced on the plantar surface of the foot at the anterior aspect of the heel where the plantar fascia ligament inserts into the calcaneus. It may radiate proximally in severe cases. Some patients may limp or prefer to walk on their toes. Alternative causes of heel pain include fat pad atrophy, plantar warts and foreign body.
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
Check your shoes to make sure they offer sufficient support and motion control. They should bend only at the ball of the foot, where your toes attach to the foot. This is very important. Avoid any shoe that bends in the center of the arch or behind the ball of the foot. It offers insufficient support and will stress your plantar fascia. The human foot was not designed to bend here and neither should a shoe be designed to do this. You may also strengthen the muscles in your arch by performing toe curls or “doming”. Toe curls may be done by placing a towel on a kitchen floor and then curling your toes to pull the towel towards you. This exercise may also be done without the towel against the resistance of the floor. Plantar fasciitis is usually controlled with conservative treatment. Besides surgery and cortisone injections, physical therapy modalities such as electrical stimulation and ultrasound can be used. Often the foot will be taped to limit pronation. Following control of the pain and inflammation an orthotic (a custom made shoe insert) can be used to control over-pronation.
Although most patients with plantar fasciitis respond to non-surgical treatment, a small percentage of patients may require surgery. If, after several months of non-surgical treatment, you continue to have heel pain, surgery will be considered. Your foot and ankle surgeon will discuss the surgical options with you and determine which approach would be most beneficial for you. No matter what kind of treatment you undergo for plantar fasciitis, the underlying causes that led to this condition may remain. Therefore, you will need to continue with preventive measures. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching, and using custom orthotic devices are the mainstay of long-term treatment for plantar fasciitis.
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.