Plantar fasciitis is a dull to severe pain in your heel caused by a strain and inflammation of your plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a scientific name for “foot tissue”. This particular tissue is a ligament attached at one side to the heel bone. At the other side, the tissue fans out to attach at the base of each of your five toes. Plantar fasciitis is the name for the condition that develops when that tissue becomes inflamed. When the plantar fascia is excessively stretched, micro-tears can occur, causing this swelling and subsequent pain.
Currently no single factor has been reliably identified as contributing to the development of plantar fasciitis. The two risk factors with the most support from current research. Decreased ankle dorsiflexion. Increased Body Mass Index (BMI) in non-athletic populations. These factors are related in that both lead to increased strain on the arch, both lead to increased compression on the heel. When dorsiflexion range of motion (ankle flexibility) is lacking, the body compensates by increasing movement of the arch. In this way, decreased ankle dorsiflexion influences pronation and places strain on the underside of the foot. Similarly, having a high BMI causes strain because it places a load on the foot that may be in excess of what the foot can support. As mentioned earlier, overpronation is thought to be a contributing factor, but studies on this have so far produced mixed results. The second way these factors relate to each other is in the way people stand. A lack of ankle flexibility and a high BMI can both cause increased pressure on the heel in standing. Keeping weight on the heels causes compression under the heel. But it also means the muscles and ligaments in the arch are not being used to balance your body weight. Lack of use, I suspect, is a greater danger than overuse. Looking beyond these potential contributors to heel pain though, there is one major factor that overshadows them all-the way footwear alters the normal function of the foot.
Plantar fasciitis which usually occurs on one foot at a time typically develops slowly. Some cases can be sudden and severe. If you suspect that you have plantar fasciitis, you should feel a sharp, stabbing heel pain, usually in the inside bottom part of the heel. The pain will likely be worse when you take the first steps after long periods of rest (especially after sleep). The pain may also worsen as you stand, climb stairs, or tiptoe. You typically will not feel a lot of pain during exercise, but will feel the ache after. In some cases, the affected heel may even swell.
During the physical exam, your doctor checks for points of tenderness in your foot. The location of your pain can help determine its cause. Usually no tests are necessary. The diagnosis is made based on the history and physical examination. Occasionally your doctor may suggest an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to make sure your pain isn’t being caused by another problem, such as a stress fracture or a pinched nerve. Sometimes an X-ray shows a spur of bone projecting forward from the heel bone. In the past, these bone spurs were often blamed for heel pain and removed surgically. But many people who have bone spurs on their heels have no heel 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.
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.