What Is Heel Discomfort

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is a condition characterised by damage and inflammation to the plantar fascia (i.e. the connective tissue on the sole of the foot forming the inner arch. This usually occurs at the attachment of the plantar fascia to the heel bone. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain seen in clinical practice. During walking or running, tension is placed through the plantar fascia. When this tension is excessive (often due to poor foot biomechanics such as flat feet or if it is too repetitive or forceful, damage to the plantar fascia can occur. Plantar fasciitis is a condition where there is damage to the plantar fascia with subsequent inflammation and degeneration. This may occur traumatically due to a high force going through the plantar fascia beyond what it can withstand or, more commonly, due to gradual wear and tear associated with overuse. Occasionally, a heel spur may develop in association with plantar fasciitis.


Causes

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”.


Symptoms

Symptoms of the plantar fasciitis include a gradual onset of pain under the heel which may radiate into the foot. Tenderness is usually felt under and on the inside of the heel which is initially worse first in the morning but eases as the foot warms up only to return later in the day or after exercise. Stretching the plantar fascia may be painful.


Diagnosis

Your doctor will check your feet and watch you stand and walk. He or she will also ask questions about your past health, including what illnesses or injuries you have had. Your symptoms, such as where the pain is and what time of day your foot hurts most. How active you are and what types of physical activity you do. Your doctor may take an X-ray of your foot if he or she suspects a problem with the bones of your foot, such as a stress fracture.


Non Surgical Treatment

More than 90% of patients with plantar fasciitis will improve within 10 months of starting simple treatment methods. Rest. Decreasing or even stopping the activities that make the pain worse is the first step in reducing the pain. You may need to stop athletic activities where your feet pound on hard surfaces (for example, running or step aerobics). Ice. Rolling your foot over a cold water bottle or ice for 20 minutes is effective. This can be done 3 to 4 times a day. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen reduce pain and inflammation. Using the medication for more than 1 month should be reviewed with your primary care doctor. Exercise. Plantar fasciitis is aggravated by tight muscles in your feet and calves. Stretching your calves and plantar fascia is the most effective way to relieve the pain that comes with this condition. Cortisone injections. Cortisone, a type of steroid, is a powerful anti-inflammatory medication. It can be injected into the plantar fascia to reduce inflammation and pain. Your doctor may limit your injections. Multiple steroid injections can cause the plantar fascia to rupture (tear), which can lead to a flat foot and chronic pain. Soft heel pads can provide extra support. Supportive shoes and orthotics. Shoes with thick soles and extra cushioning can reduce pain with standing and walking. As you step and your heel strikes the ground, a significant amount of tension is placed on the fascia, which causes microtrauma (tiny tears in the tissue). A cushioned shoe or insert reduces this tension and the microtrauma that occurs with every step. Soft silicone heel pads are inexpensive and work by elevating and cushioning your heel. Pre-made or custom orthotics (shoe inserts) are also helpful. Night splints. Most people sleep with their feet pointed down. This relaxes the plantar fascia and is one of the reasons for morning heel pain. A night splint stretches the plantar fascia while you sleep. Although it can be difficult to sleep with, a night splint is very effective and does not have to be used once the pain is gone. Physical therapy. Your doctor may suggest that you work with a physical therapist on an exercise program that focuses on stretching your calf muscles and plantar fascia. In addition to exercises like the ones mentioned above, a physical therapy program may involve specialized ice treatments, massage, and medication to decrease inflammation around the plantar fascia. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT). During this procedure, high-energy shockwave impulses stimulate the healing process in damaged plantar fascia tissue. ESWT has not shown consistent results and, therefore, is not commonly performed. ESWT is noninvasive-it does not require a surgical incision. Because of the minimal risk involved, ESWT is sometimes tried before surgery is considered.

Feet Pain


Surgical Treatment

Surgery for plantar fasciitis can be very successful in the right patients. While there are potential complications, about 70-80% of patients will find relief after plantar fascia release surgery. This may not be perfect, but if plantar fasciitis has been slowing you down for a year or more, it may well be worth these potential risks of surgery. New surgical techniques allow surgery to release the plantar fascia to be performed through small incisions using a tiny camera to locate and cut the plantar fascia. This procedure is called an endoscopic plantar fascia release. Some surgeons are concerned that the endoscopic plantar fascia release procedure increases the risk of damage to the small nerves of the foot. While there is no definitive answer that this endoscopic plantar fascia release is better or worse than a traditional plantar fascia release, most surgeons still prefer the traditional approach.


Stretching Exercises

The following exercises are commonly prescribed to patients with this condition. You should discuss the suitability of these exercises with your physiotherapist prior to beginning them. Generally, they should be performed 2 – 3 times daily and only provided they do not cause or increase symptoms. Your physiotherapist can advise when it is appropriate to begin the initial exercises and eventually progress to the intermediate and advanced exercises. As a general rule, addition of exercises or progression to more advanced exercises should take place provided there is no increase in symptoms. Calf Stretch with Towel. Begin this stretch in long sitting with your leg to be stretched in front of you. Your knee and back should be straight and a towel or rigid band placed around your foot as demonstrated. Using your foot, ankle and the towel, bring your toes towards your head until you feel a stretch in the back of your calf, Achilles tendon, plantar fascia or leg. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 10 times at a mild to moderate stretch provided the exercise is pain free. Resistance Band Calf Strengthening. Begin this exercise with a resistance band around your foot as demonstrated and your foot and ankle held up towards your head. Slowly move your foot and ankle down against the resistance band as far as possible and comfortable without pain, tightening your calf muscle. Very slowly return back to the starting position. Repeat 10 – 20 times provided the exercise is pain free.

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