The plantar fascia is a thick, broad, inelastic band of fibrous tissue that courses along the bottom (plantar surface) of the foot. It is attached to the heel bone (calcaneus) and fans out to attach to the bottom of the metatarsal bones in the region of the ball of the foot. Because the normal foot has an arch, this tight band of tissue (plantar fascia) is at the base of the arch. In this position, the plantar fascia acts like a bowstring to maintain the arch of the foot.
Plantar fasciitis refers to an inflammation of the plantar fascia. The inflammation in the tissue is the result of some type of injury to the plantar fascia. Typically, plantar fasciitis results from repeated trauma to the tissue where it attaches to the calcaneus.
This repeated trauma often results in microscopic tearing of the plantar fascia at or near the point of attachment of the tissue to the calcaneus. The result of the damage and inflammation is pain.
If there is significant injury to the plantar fascia, the inflammatory reaction of the heel bone may produce spike-like projections of new bone called heel spurs. The spurs are not the cause of the initial pain of plantar fasciitis, they are the result of the problem. Most heel spurs are painless. Occasionally, they are associated with pain and discomfort and require medical treatment or even surgical removal
Plantar fasciitis (heel-spur syndrome) is a common problem among people active in sports, especially runners. It typically starts as a dull, intermittent pain in the heel and may progress to sharp, constant pain. Often, it is usually worse in the morning or after sitting, and then decreases as the patient begins to walk around. In addition, the pain usually increases after standing or walking for long periods of time, and at the beginning of a sporting activity.
Often people who develop plantar fasciitis have several risk factors for doing so. They include:
- Flat feet
- High arched, rigid feet
- Increasing age and family tendency
- Running on toes, hills or very soft surfaces (sand)
- Poor arch support in shoes
- Rapid change in activity level
Fortunately, the majority of cases of plantar fasciitis respond favorably to non-operative treatment. However, the recovery time varies tremendously from patient to patient. While some patients may be healed after 6 weeks of treatment, others may require 6 months or longer for recovery. In addition, the methods of treatment that may work for one patient, may not be successful in another patient. Typically, the methods of treatment that are attempted include anti-inflammatory mediation, icing, stretching, activity modification, and heel inserts.
In addition, it is necessary to avoid the activities that are known to aggravate the fasciitis. This includes any activity that involves repeated impact of the heel on a hard surface, such as running. Sometimes, cortisone injections are necessary to achieve satisfactory healing.
If the pain persists, it may be necessary to run additional diagnostic studies to rule other, less common, causes of heel pain such as stress fractures, nerve compression injuries, or collagen disorders of the skin.
Rarely, surgical treatment is necessary. However, when the nonsurgical treatments have been tried and they have failed, surgery may be indicated for the relief of heel pain. Most of these surgical procedures can be completed on an outpatient basis in less than one hour. The surgery can be accomplished under local anesthesia or minimal sedation administrated by a trained anesthesiologist.
Surgical treatment options include:
- Surgical removal/release of the fascia. A small incision is made on the inside of the heel and the inflamed tissue is removed or released.
- Removal of bone spurs. During the same operation that is used to separate the connective tissue from the heel bone, the offending heel spur can be removed.
Immediately after either operation, a cast may or may not be used to support and immobilize the foot for two or three weeks. Crutches may be helpful for greater comfort and mobility while the foot heals.
When the cast has been removed, three to four weeks of physical therapy will speed healing and reduce swelling.
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THIS MATERIAL DOES NOT CONSTITUTE MEDICAL ADVICE. IT IS INTENDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. PLEASE CONSULT A PHYSICIAN FOR SPECIFIC TREATMENT RECOMMENDATIONS.
THE CENTER FOR ORTHOPAEDICS & SPORTS MEDICINE
1211 Johnson Ferry Rd
Marietta, GA 30068