What Is Heel Discomfort

Plantar Fascia

Overview

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common conditions causing heel pain. The condition involves inflammation of the plantar fascia — a tough, fibrous band of tissue that runs along the sole of the foot with attachments to the heel bone (calcaneus) proximally and to the base of the toes distally. The plantar fascia provides support to the arch of the foot and has an important role in normal foot mechanics during walking. Tension or stress in the plantar fascia increases when one places weight on the foot (such as with standing) and as one pushes off on the ball of the foot and toes — motions which occur during normal walking or running. Inflammation and pain start in the fascia either as a result of an increase in activity level (as in initiating a walking or running program), or in association with the normal aging process. With aging, the fascia loses some of its normal elasticity or resilience and can become irritated with routine daily activities. Less commonly, plantar fasciitis can develop in association with general medical conditions such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.


Causes

Far and away the most common cause of plantar fasciitis in an athlete is faulty biomechanics of the foot or leg. Faulty biomechanics causes the foot to sustain increased or prolonged stresses over and above those of routine ground contacts. Throughout the phase of ground contact, the foot assumes several mechanical positions to dissipate shock while at the same time placing the foot in the best position to deliver ground forces. With heel landing the foot is supinated (ankle rolled out). At mid-stance the foot is pronated (ankle rolled in). The foot is supinated again with toe-off. The supination of the foot at heel strike and toe-off makes the foot a rigid lever. At heel strike the shock of ground contact is transferred to the powerful quads. During toe-off forward motion is created by contraction of the gastroc complex plantar flexing the rigid lever of the foot pushing the body forward.


Symptoms

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.


Diagnosis

To diagnose plantar fasciitis, your doctor will physically examine your foot by testing your reflexes, balance, coordination, muscle strength, and muscle tone. Your doctor may also advise a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or X-ray to rule out other others sources of your pain, such as a pinched nerve, stress fracture, or bone spur.


Non Surgical Treatment

No single treatment works best for everyone with plantar fasciitis. But there are many things you can try to help your foot get better. Give your feet a rest. Cut back on activities that make your foot hurt. Try not to walk or run on hard surfaces. To reduce pain and swelling, try putting ice on your heel. Or take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (such as Aleve). Do toe stretches camera.gif, calf stretches camera.gif and towel stretches camera.gif several times a day, especially when you first get up in the morning. (For towel stretches, you pull on both ends of a rolled towel that you place under the ball of your foot.) Get a new pair of shoes. Pick shoes with good arch support and a cushioned sole. Or try heel cups or shoe inserts. Use them in both shoes, even if only one foot hurts. If these treatments do not help, your doctor may recommend splints that you wear at night, shots of medicine (such as a steroid) in your heel, or other treatments. You probably will not need surgery. Doctors only suggest it for people who still have pain after trying other treatments for 6 to 12 months. Plantar fasciitis most often occurs because of injuries that have happened over time. With treatment, you will have less pain within a few weeks. But it may take time for the pain to go away completely. It may take a few months to a year. Stay with your treatment. If you don’t, you may have constant pain when you stand or walk. The sooner you start treatment, the sooner your feet will stop hurting.

Plantar Fascitis


Surgical Treatment

In very rare cases plantar fascia surgery is suggested, as a last resort. In this case the surgeon makes an incision into the ligament, partially cutting the plantar fascia to release it. If a heel spur is present, the surgeon will remove it. Plantar Fasciitis surgery should always be considered the last resort when all the conventional treatment methods have failed to succeed. Endoscopic plantar fasciotomy (EPF) is a form of surgery whereby two incisions are made around the heel and the ligament is being detached from the heel bone allowing the new ligament to develop in the same place. In some cases the surgeon may decide to remove the heel spur itself, if present. Just like any type of surgery, Plantar Fascia surgery comes with certain risks and side effects. For example, the arch of the foot may drop and become weak. Wearing an arch support after surgery is therefore recommended. Heel spur surgeries may also do some damage to veins and arteries of your foot that allow blood supply in the area. This will increase the time of recovery.


Stretching Exercises

In one exercise, you lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and heel on the ground. Your other knee is bent. Your heel cord and foot arch stretch as you lean. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times for each sore heel. It is important to keep the knee fully extended on the side being stretched. In another exercise, you lean forward onto a countertop, spreading your feet apart with one foot in front of the other. Flex your knees and squat down, keeping your heels on the ground as long as possible. Your heel cords and foot arches will stretch as the heels come up in the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds, relax and straighten up. Repeat 20 times. About 90 percent of people with plantar fasciitis improve significantly after two months of initial treatment. You may be advised to use shoes with shock-absorbing soles or fitted with an off-the-shelf shoe insert device like a rubber heel pad. Your foot may be taped into a specific position. If your plantar fasciitis continues after a few months of conservative treatment, your doctor may inject your heel with steroidal anti-inflammatory medication. If you still have symptoms, you may need to wear a walking cast for two to three weeks or a positional splint when you sleep. In a few cases, surgery is needed for chronically contracted tissue.

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