The plantar fascia is a thick, ligamentous connective tissue that runs from the heel bone to the ball of the foot. This strong and tight tissue helps maintain the arch of the foot. It is also one of
the major transmitters of weight across the foot as you walk or run. Thus, tremendous stress is placed on the plantar fascia, often leading to plantar fasciitis- a stabbing or burning pain in the
heel or arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is particularly common in runners. People who are overweight, women who are pregnant and those who wear shoes with inadequate support are also at a higher
risk. Prolonged plantar fasciitis frequently leads to heel spurs, a hook of bone that can form on the heel bone. The heel spur itself is not thought to be the primary cause of pain, rather
inflammation and irritation of the plantar fascia is the primary problem.
This is a problem of either extreme, so people with high arches or those that have very flat feet are at risk of developing pain in this region. This is because of the relative stress the plantar
fascia is put under. In people with excessive pronation, the plantar fascia is put under too much stretch, as their range flattens and strains it. People with a stiff, supinated (high-arched) foot
lack the flexibility to appropriately shock absorb, so this too puts extra strain on the plantar fascia. Clinically, we see more people presenting with plantar fascia pain who have excessive
pronation than those with stiff, supinated feet. But while the foot type is the biggest risk factor for plantar fasciitis, the whole leg from the pelvis down can affect how the foot hits the ground.
A thorough biomechanical assessment will determine where in the kinetic chain things have gone wrong to cause the overload.
Most patients with plantar fasciitis describe a sharp or stabbing pain on the bottom of the heel that is most severe when they first get up in the morning or after a period of resting. Some may feel
like the heel is bruised while others may describe tightness or even a pulling sensation on the heel or arch.
Diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is based on a medical history, the nature of symptoms, and the presence of localised tenderness in the heel. X-rays may be recommended to rule out other causes for the
symptoms, such as bone fracture and to check for evidence of heel spurs. Blood tests may also be recommended.
Non Surgical Treatment
The key for the proper treatment of plantar fasciitis is determining what is causing the excessive stretching of the plantar fascia. When the cause is over-pronation (flat feet), an orthotic with
rearfoot posting and longitudinal arch support is an effective device to reduce the over-pronation and allow the condition to heal. If you have usually high arches, which can also lead to plantar
fasciitis, cushion the heel, absorb shock and wear proper footwear that will accommodate and comfort the foot. Other common treatments include stretching exercises, plantar fasciitis night splints,
wearing shoes that have a cushioned heel to absorb shock, and elevating the heel with the use of a heel cradle or heel cup. Heel cradles and heel cups provide extra comfort, cushion the heel, and
reduce the amount of shock and shear forces placed during everyday activities.
More invasive procedures to treat plantar fasciitis are usually sought only after other treatment has failed to produce favorable results. Corticosteroid injections deliver medicine into the injured
fascia to reduce pain. However, this treatment may weaken the plantar fascia and result in further damage. In addition, extracorporeal shock wave therapy (ESWT) is a treatment where sound waves are
sent through the damaged tissue in order to stimulate the damaged tissue and encourage healing. This method is relatively new in treating plantar fasciitis and your doctor will be able to tell you if
it is the right method for you. Lastly, surgery is the last option for those suffering from chronic or severe plantar fasciitis.