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Plantar Fascia

Overview

A common condition that affects people of all ages. Symptoms include heel pain that is worse upon arising in the morning or standing after prolonged sitting. The pain is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, the ligament that connects the heel bone to the toes.


Causes

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, accounting for around four out of five cases. Plantar fasciitis is when the thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone with the rest of the foot (the plantar fascia) becomes damaged and thickened. Damage to the plantar fascia is thought to occur following sudden damage, for example, damaging your heel while jogging, running or dancing; this type of damage usually affects younger people who are physically active, gradual wear and tear of the tissues that make up the plantar fascia – this usually affects adults who are 40 years of age or over. You are at an increased risk of gradual wear and tear damaging your plantar fasciitis if you are overweight or obese, if you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or over, you are considered to be obese, have a job that involves spending long periods of time standing, wear flat-soled shoes, such as sandals or flip flops. Less common causes of heel pain are a stress fracture. A stress fracture can occur if your heel bone is damaged during an injury. Fat pad atrophy. Fat pad atrophy is where the layer of fat that lies under the heel bone, known as the fat pad, starts to waste away due to too much strain being placed on the pad. Women who wear high-heeled shoes for many years have an increased risk of developing fat pad atrophy. Bursitis. Bursitis is inflammation of one or more bursa (small fluid-filled sacs under the skin, usually found over the joints and between tendons and bones). It’s possible to develop bursitis anywhere inside the body, not just in the foot. Tarsal tunnel syndrome. The nerves in the sole of your foot pass through a small tunnel on the inside of the ankle joint, known as the tarsal tunnel. If a cyst forms or the tunnel is damaged, the nerves can become compressed (squashed). This can cause pain anywhere along the nerve, including beneath your heel. Sever’s disease. Sever’s disease is a common cause of heel pain in children. It’s caused by the muscles and tendons of the hamstrings and calves stretching and tightening in response to growth spurts. The stretching of the calf muscle pulls on the Achilles tendon. This pulls on the growing area of bone at the back of the heel (growth plate), causing pain in the heel. The pain is further aggravated by activities such as football and gymnastics. The pain often develops at the side of the heel, but can also be felt under the heel. Calf and hamstring stretches and, if necessary, heel pads are usually effective treatments for Sever’s disease. Bone spurs. Bone spurs are an excess growth of bone that forms on a normal bone. Bone spurs can develop on the heel (a heel spur) and are more common in people with heel pain. However, they can also occur in people without heel pain. A heel spur does not cause heel pain.


Symptoms

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.


Diagnosis

Plantar fasciosis is confirmed if firm thumb pressure applied to the calcaneus when the foot is dorsiflexed elicits pain. Fascial pain along the plantar medial border of the fascia may also be present. If findings are equivocal, demonstration of a heel spur on x-ray may support the diagnosis; however, absence does not rule out the diagnosis, and visible spurs are not generally the cause of symptoms. Also, infrequently, calcaneal spurs appear ill defined on x-ray, exhibiting fluffy new bone formation, suggesting spondyloarthropathy (eg, ankylosing spondylitis, reactive arthritis. If an acute fascial tear is suspected, MRI is done.


Non Surgical Treatment

Cut back on walking, running or athletic weight bearing activities. Try the recommended stretches above. Shoes with a good arch support and heel cushioning or over-the-counter orthotics may help. Icing the area of pain or taking a short course of anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen will help with pain. If treatments do not help, a doctor can suggest other options.

Heel Discomfort


Surgical Treatment

In unusual cases, surgical intervention is necessary for relief of pain. These should only be employed after non-surgical efforts have been used without relief. Generally, such surgical procedures may be completed on an outpatient basis in less than one hour, using local anesthesia or minimal sedation administrated by a trained anesthesiologist. In such cases, the surgeon may remove or release the injured and inflamed fascia, after a small incision is made in the heel. A surgical procedure may also be undertaken to remove bone spurs, sometimes as part of the same surgery addressing the damaged tissue. A cast may be used to immobilize the foot following surgery and crutches provided in order to allow greater mobility while keeping weight off the recovering foot during healing. After removal of the cast, several weeks of physical therapy can be used to speed recovery, reduce swelling and restore flexibility.


Stretching Exercises

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.

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