The Plantar Fascia is a broad, thick band of tissue that runs from under the heel to the front of the foot. Through overuse the fascia can become inflamed and painful at its attachment to the heel bone or calcaneus. The condition is traditionally thought to be inflammation, however this is now believed to be incorrect due to the absence of inflammatory cells within the fascia. The cause of pain is thought to be degeneration of the collagen fibres close to the attachment to the heel bone.
The plantar fascia is designed to absorb the high stresses and strains we place on our feet. But, sometimes, too much pressure damages or tears the tissues. The body’s natural response to injury is inflammation, which results in the heel pain and stiffness of plantar fasciitis.
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.
Plantar fasciitis is one of many conditions causing “heel pain”. Some other possible causes include nerve compression either in the foot or in the back, stress fracture of the calcaneus, and loss of the fatty tissue pad under the heel. Plantar fasciitis can be distinguished from these and other conditions based on a history and examination done by a physician. It should be noted that heel spurs are often inappropriately thought to be the sole cause of heel pain. In fact, heel spurs are common and are nothing more than the bone’s response to traction or pulling-type forces from the plantar fascia and other muscles in the foot where they attach to the heel bone. They are commonly present in patients without pain, and frequently absent from those who have pain. It is the rare patient who has a truly enlarged and problematic spur requiring surgery.
Non Surgical Treatment
A doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to help reduce pain and inflammation. Electrotherapy such as ultrasound or laser may also help with symptoms. An X-ray may be taken to see if there is any bone growth or calcification, known as a heel spur but this is not necessarily a cause of pain. Deep tissue sports massage techniques can reduce the tension in and stretch the plantar fascia and the calf muscles. Extracorporeal shock wave therapy has been known to be successful and a corticosteroid injection is also an option.
Most studies indicate that 95% of those afflicted with plantar fasciitis are able to relieve their heel pain with nonsurgical treatments. If you are one of the few people whose symptoms don’t improve with other treatments, your doctor may recommend plantar fascia release surgery. Plantar fascia release involves cutting part of the plantar fascia ligament in order to release the tension and relieve the inflammation of the ligament. Overall, the success rate of surgical release is 70 to 90 percent in patients with plantar fasciitis. While the success rate is very high following surgery, one should be aware that there is often a prolonged postoperative period of discomfort similar to the discomfort experienced prior to surgery. This pain usually will abate within 2-3 months. One should always be sure to understand all the risks associated with any surgery they are considering.