Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of heel pain. It involves pain and inflammation of a thick band of tissue, called the plantar fascia, that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. Plantar fasciitis commonly causes stabbing pain that usually occurs with your very first steps in the morning. Once your foot limbers up, the pain of plantar fasciitis normally decreases, but it may return after long periods of standing or after getting up from a seated position. Plantar fasciitis is particularly common in runners. In addition, people who are overweight and those who wear shoes with inadequate support are at risk of plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis can be confused with a condition called tarsal tunnel syndrome. In tarsal tunnel syndrome, an important nerve in the foot, the tibial nerve, is trapped and pinched as it passes through the tarsal tunnel, a condition analogous to carpal tunnel syndrome in the wrist. This may cause symptoms similar to the pain of a plantar fasciitis. There are also other less common problems such as nerve entrapments, stress fractures, and fat pad necrosis, all of which can cause foot pain. Finally, several rheumatologic conditions can cause heel pain. These syndromes such as Reiter’s syndrome and ankylosing spondylitis can cause heel pain similar to plantar fasciitis. If your symptoms are not typical for plantar fasciitis, or if your symptoms do not resolve with treatment, your doctor will consider these possible diagnoses.
The major complaint of those with plantar fasciitis is pain and stiffness in the bottom of the heel. This develops gradually over time. It usually affects just one foot, but can affect both feet. Some people describe the pain as dull, while others experience a sharp pain, and some feel a burning or ache on the bottom of the foot extending outward from the heel. The pain is usually worse in the morning when you take your first steps out of bed, or if you’ve been sitting or lying down for a while. Climbing stairs can be very difficult due to the heel stiffness. After prolonged activity, the pain can flare-up due to increased inflammation. Pain is not usually felt during the activity, but rather just after stopping.
Your doctor will ask you about the kind of pain you’re having, when it occurs and how long you’ve had it. If you have pain in your heel when you stand up for the first time in the morning, you may have plantar fasciitis. Most people with plantar fasciitis say the pain is like a knife or a pin sticking into the bottom of the foot. After you’ve been standing for a while, the pain becomes more like a dull ache. If you sit down for any length of time, the sharp pain will come back when you stand up again.
Non Surgical Treatment
About 90% of plantar fasciitis cases are self-limited and will improve within six months with conservative treatment and within a year regardless of treatment. Many treatments have been proposed for the treatment of plantar fasciitis. First-line conservative approaches include rest, heat, ice, calf-strengthening exercises, techniques to stretch the calf muscles, achilles tendon, and plantar fascia, weight reduction in the overweight or obese, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen. NSAIDs are commonly used to treat plantar fasciitis, but fail to resolve the pain in 20% of people. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) is an effective treatment modality for plantar fasciitis pain unresponsive to conservative nonsurgical measures for at least three months. Corticosteroid injections are sometimes used for cases of plantar fasciitis refractory to more conservative measures. The injections may be an effective modality for short-term pain relief up to one month, but studies failed to show effective pain relief after three months. Notable risks of corticosteroid injections for plantar fasciitis include plantar fascia rupture, skin infection, nerve or muscle injury, or atrophy of the plantar fat pad. Custom orthotic devices have been demonstrated as an effective method to reduce plantar fasciitis pain for up to 12 weeks. Night splints for 1-3 months are used to relieve plantar fasciitis pain that has persisted for six months. The night splints are designed to position and maintain the ankle in a neutral position thereby passively stretching the calf and plantar fascia overnight during sleep. Other treatment approaches may include supportive footwear, arch taping, and physical therapy.
In cases that do not respond to any conservative treatment, surgical release of the plantar fascia may be considered. Plantar fasciotomy may be performed using open, endoscopic or radiofrequency lesioning techniques. Overall, the success rate of surgical release is 70 to 90 percent in patients with plantar fasciitis. Potential risk factors include flattening of the longitudinal arch and heel hypoesthesia as well as the potential complications associated with rupture of the plantar fascia and complications related to anesthesia.
Stretching exercises for the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia are recommend to relieve pain and aid in the healing process. Sometimes application of athletic tape is recommended. In moderate or severe cases of plantar fasciitis, your doctor may recommend you wearing a night splint, which will stretch the arch of your foot and calf while you sleep. This helps to lengthen the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia for symptom relief. Depending on the severity of your plantar fasciitis, your physician may prescribe a store-bought orthotic (arch support) or custom-fitted orthotic to help distribute your foot pressure more evenly.