If your first step in the morning often feels like it involves a rusty nail being inserted into your heel, you’re not alone. Heel pain resulting from plantar fasciitis is the most prevalent condition treated in podiatric clinics, and an additional 1 million Americans annually are seen by medical doctors for the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The plantar fascia is the ligament that runs from the heel bone across the entire bottom of the foot and connects at the base of the toes. Ligaments connect bone to bone, and don’t really constrict or contract, but can become thickened because of inflammation. Inflammation of the plantar fascia can cause strain when you walk, specifically heel pain that is especially bad for the first few steps after prolonged inactivity. It then typically loosens up once you’re up and about.
You are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis if you are Active, sports that place excessive stress on the heel bone and attached tissue, especially if you have tight calf muscles or a stiff ankle from a previous ankle sprain, which limits ankle movement eg. Running, ballet dancing and aerobics. Overweight. Carrying around extra weight increases the strain and stress on your plantar fascia. Pregnant. The weight gain and swelling associated with pregnancy can cause ligaments to become more relaxed, which can lead to mechanical problems and inflammation. On your feet. Having a job that requires a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces ie factory workers, teachers and waitresses. Flat Feet or High Foot Arches. Changes in the arch of your foot changes the shock absorption ability and can stretch and strain the plantar fascia, which then has to absorb the additional force. Middle-Aged or Older. With ageing the arch of your foot may begin to sag – putting extra stress on the plantar fascia. Wearing shoes with poor support. Weak Foot Arch Muscles. Muscle fatigue allows your plantar fascia to overstress and cause injury. Arthritis. Some types of arthritis can cause inflammation in the tendons in the bottom of your foot, which may lead to plantar fasciitis. Diabetes. Although doctors don’t know why, plantar fasciitis occurs more often in people with diabetes.
The symptoms of plantar fasciitis include pain in the bottom of your foot, especially at the front or centre of the heel bone, pain that is worse when first rising in the morning (called “first-step pain”), when first standing up after any long period of sitting, or after increased levels of activity especially in non-supportive shoes. Seek medical advice about plantar fasciitis if you have heel pain or pain in the bottom of your foot, especially when you get up in the morning, that does not respond to treatment or if there is redness or bruising in the heel.
X-rays are a commonly used diagnostic imaging technique to rule out the possibility of a bone spur as a cause of your heel pain. A bone spur, if it is present in this location, is probably not the cause of your pain, but it is evidence that your plantar fascia has been exerting excessive force on your heel bone. X-ray images can also help determine if you have arthritis or whether other, more rare problems, stress fractures, bone tumors-are contributing to your heel pain.
Non Surgical Treatment
A change to properly fitting, appropriate shoes may be useful in some patients. Some individuals wear shoes that are too small, which can exacerbate many types of foot pain. Patients often find that wearing shoes with thicker, well-cushioned midsoles, usually made of a material like high-density ethylene vinyl acetate (such as is found in many running shoes), decreases the pain associated with long periods of walking or standing. Studies have shown that with age, running shoes lose a significant portion of their shock absorption. Thus, simply getting a new pair of shoes may be helpful in decreasing pain. For individuals with flat feet, motion control shoes or shoes with better longitudinal arch support may decrease the pain associated with long periods of walking or standing. Motion control shoes usually have the following characteristics: a straight last, board or combination lasted construction, an external heel counter, a wider flare and extra medial support. A change in shoes was cited by 14 percent of patients with plantar fasciitis as the treatment that worked best for them.
Surgery may be considered in very difficult cases. Surgery is usually only advised if your pain has not eased after 12 months despite other treatments. The operation involves separating your plantar fascia from where it connects to the bone; this is called a plantar fascia release. It may also involve removal of a spur on the calcaneum if one is present. Surgery is not always successful. It can cause complications in some people so it should be considered as a last resort. Complications may include infection, increased pain, injury to nearby nerves, or rupture of the plantar fascia.
Exercises designed to stretch both your calf muscles and your plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs under the sole of your foot) should help relieve pain and improve flexibility in the affected foot. A number of stretching exercises are described below. It’s usually recommended that you do the exercises on both legs, even if only one of your heels is affected by pain. This will improve your balance and stability, and help relieve heel pain. Towel stretches. Keep a long towel beside your bed. Before you get out of bed in the morning, loop the towel around your foot and use it to pull your toes towards your body, while keeping your knee straight. Repeat three times on each foot. Wall stretches. Place both hands on a wall at shoulder height, with one of your feet in front of the other. The front foot should be about 30cm (12 inches) away from the wall. With your front knee bent and your back leg straight, lean towards the wall until you feel a tightening in the calf muscles of your back leg. Then relax. Repeat this exercise 10 times before switching legs and repeating the cycle. You should practise wall stretches twice a day. Stair stretches. Stand on a step of your stairs facing upstairs, using your banister for support. Your feet should be slightly apart, with your heels hanging off the back of the step. Lower your heels until you feel a tightening in your calves. Hold this position for about 40 seconds, before raising your heels back to the starting position. Repeat this procedure six times, at least twice a day. Chair stretches. Sit on a chair, with your knees bent at right angles. Turn your feet sideways so your heels are touching and your toes are pointing in opposite directions. Lift the toes of the affected foot upwards, while keeping the heel firmly on the floor. You should feel your calf muscles and Achilles tendon (the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your calf muscle) tighten. Hold this position for several seconds and then relax. Repeat this procedure 10 times, five to six times a day. Dynamic stretches. While seated, roll the arch of your foot (the curved bottom part of the foot between your toes and heel) over a round object, such as a rolling pin, tennis ball or drinks can. Some people find that using a chilled can from their fridge has the added benefit of helping to relieve pain. Move your foot and ankle in all directions over the object for several minutes. Repeat the exercise twice a day.