Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain in runners, eventually affecting 10 percent of the running community. While running, the plantar fascia works with the Achilles tendon to store and return energy. Because of its powerful attachment to the base of the toe, the plantar fascia stabilizes the inner forefoot as forces peak during pushoff. Unlike bone spurs and stress fractures of the heel, plantar fasciitis tends to produce pain during the pushoff phase while running, not during initial contact. A simple way to tell if you have plantar fasciitis versus a heel spur/stress fracture is to walk on your toes: heel spurs and heel stress fractures feel better while you walk on your toes, while plantar fasciitis typically produces more discomfort when you shift your weight onto your toes.
Excessive stretching of the plantar fascia can result in microtrauma of this structure either along its course or where it inserts onto the medial calcaneal tuberosity. This microtrauma, if repetitive, can result in chronic degeneration of the plantar fascia fibers. The loading of the degenerative and healing tissue at the plantar fascia may cause significant plantar pain, particularly with the first few steps after sleep or other periods of inactivity. The term fasciitis may, in fact, be something of a misnomer, because the disease is actually a degenerative process that occurs with or without inflammatory changes, which may include fibroblastic proliferation. This has been proven from biopsies of fascia from people undergoing surgery for plantar fascia release.
Plantar fasciitis is usually found in one foot. While bilateral plantar fasciitis is not unheard of, this condition is more the result of a systemic arthritic condition that is extremely rare in an athletic population. There is a greater incidence of plantar fasciitis in males than females (Ambrosius 1992). While no direct cause could be found it could be argued that males are generally heavier which, when combined with the greater speeds, increased ground contact forces, and less flexibility, may explain the greater injury predisposition. The most notable characteristic of plantar fasciitis is pain upon rising, particularly the first step out of bed. This morning pain can be located with pinpoint accuracy at the bony landmark on the anterior medial tubercle of the calcaneus. The pain may be severe enough to prevent the athlete from walking barefooted in a normal heel-toe gait. Other less common presentations include referred pain to the subtalar joint, the forefoot, the arch of the foot or the achilles tendon (Brantingham 1992). After several minutes of walking the pain usually subsides only to re turn with the vigorous activity of the day's training session. The problem should be obvious to the coach as the athlete will exhibit altered gait and/ or an abnormal stride pattern, and may complain of foot pain during running/jumping activities. Consistent with plantar fascia problems the athlete will have a shortened gastroc complex. This can be evidenced by poor dorsiflexion (lifting the forefoot off the ground) or inability to perform the "flying frog" position. In the flying frog the athlete goes into a full squat position and maintains balance and full ground contact with the sole of the foot. Elevation of the heel signifies a tight gastroc complex. This test can be done with the training shoes on.
Most cases of plantar fasciitis are diagnosed by a health care provider who listens carefully to your description of symptoms. During an examination of your feet, your health care provider will have to press on the bottom of your feet, the area most likely to be painful in plantar fasciitis. Because the pain of plantar fasciitis has unique characteristics, pain upon rising, improvement after walking for several minutes, pain produced by pressure applied in a specific location on your foot but not with pressure in other areas, your health care provider will probably feel comfortable making the diagnosis based on your symptoms and a physical examination. Your health care provider may suggest that you have an X-ray of your foot to verify that there is no stress fracture causing your pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
Rest the foot as much as you can, especially during the beginning of the treatment. Try to avoid unnecessary foot activity like running, or excess standing. Instead, perform exercises that do not put stress on the injured foot, like bicycling or swimming. Apply ice to the painful area a few times a day to reduce inflammation. Try rolling the arch of the foot over a tennis ball or a baseball. A good treatment is rolling the arch of the foot over a frozen soft drink can. This exercise cools and stretches the affected area. You can use over-the-counter pain relievers (ibuprofen, naproxen) to reduce pain and inflammation. Use an over-the-counter arch support or heel support. Avoid walking barefoot, because it may add stress on the plantar fascia. Exercise your feet to make the muscles, ligaments, tendons and other parts stronger. Stronger foot muscles give better support to the plantar fascia preventing it from another injury. Stretching the foot, the plantar fascia and the calf muscles a few times a day is an essential part of treatment and prevention.
When more-conservative measures aren't working, your doctor might recommend steroid shots. Injecting a type of steroid medication into the tender area can provide temporary pain relief. Multiple injections aren't recommended because they can weaken your plantar fascia and possibly cause it to rupture, as well as shrink the fat pad covering your heel bone. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy. In this procedure, sound waves are directed at the area of heel pain to stimulate healing. It's usually used for chronic plantar fasciitis that hasn't responded to more-conservative treatments. This procedure may cause bruises, swelling, pain, numbness or tingling and has not been shown to be consistently effective. Surgery. Few people need surgery to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone. It's generally an option only when the pain is severe and all else fails. Side effects include a weakening of the arch in your foot.
Calf stretch. Lean forward against a wall with one knee straight and the heel on the ground. Place the other leg in front, with the knee bent. To stretch the calf muscles and the heel cord, push your hips toward the wall in a controlled fashion. Hold the position for 10 seconds and relax. Repeat this exercise 20 times for each foot. A strong pull in the calf should be felt during the stretch. Plantar fascia stretch. This stretch is performed in the seated position. Cross your affected foot over the knee of your other leg. Grasp the toes of your painful foot and slowly pull them toward you in a controlled fashion. If it is difficult to reach your foot, wrap a towel around your big toe to help pull your toes toward you. Place your other hand along the plantar fascia. The fascia should feel like a tight band along the bottom of your foot when stretched. Hold the stretch for 10 seconds. Repeat it 20 times for each foot. This exercise is best done in the morning before standing or walking.