Plantar fasciitis refers to an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick, fibrous band running along the sole of the foot. Such inflammation results from direct injury to the plantar fascia, usually, repeated trauma to the tissue where the fascia attaches to the calcaneus or heel bone. The plantar fascia is critical in maintaining the foot?s complex arch system, also playing a role in balance and fine control of certain phases of the athlete?s gait. Injury to the plantar fascia is particularly painful and disabling for runners and can often prove stubbornly resistant to treatment. Rehabilitation is frequently a lengthy and frustrating process. For these reasons, care should be taken where possible to avoid such injury by means of preventative exercises and sensitivity to early warning signs.
There are a number of possible causes for arch pain, but the most common are structural imbalances of the foot, such a pronated foot (rolls inward at the ankles). This is often not enough in isolation to cause the problem, but in combination with other factors arch pain may develop. These other factors are usually associated with overuse - running, walking, hard surfaces and/or OFAD (on feet all day), usually combined with inadequate or non-supportive footwear. The more common specific causes of arch pain can be plantar fasciitis (strain of the plantar fascia - a strong ligament that supports the arch), tarsal tunnel syndrome (a pinched nerve at the ankle that refers pain to the arch), foot strain from a pronated foot or flat foot, there can be osteoarthritis of the joints in the midfoot that can cause arch pain.
Typically, the sufferer of plantar fasciitis experiences pain upon rising after sleep, particularly the first step out of bed. Such pain is tightly localized at the bony landmark on the anterior medial tubercle of the calcaneus. In some cases, pain may prevent the athlete from walking in a normal heel-toe gait, causing an irregular walk as means of compensation. Less common areas of pain include the forefoot, Achilles tendon, or subtalar joint. After a brief period of walking, the pain usually subsides, but returns again either with vigorous activity or prolonged standing or walking. On the field, an altered gait or abnormal stride pattern, along with pain during running or jumping activities are tell-tale signs of plantar fasciitis and should be given prompt attention. Further indications of the injury include poor dorsiflexion (lifting the forefoot off the ground) due to a shortened gastroc complex, (muscles of the calf). Crouching in a full squat position with the sole of the foot flat on the ground can be used as a test, as pain will preclude it for the athlete suffering from plantar fasciitis, causing an elevation of the heel due to tension in the gastroc complex.
The adult acquired flatfoot, secondary to posterior tibial tendon dysfunction, is diagnosed in a number of ways with no single test proven to be totally reliable. The most accurate diagnosis is made by a skilled clinician utilizing observation and hands on evaluation of the foot and ankle. Observation of the foot in a walking examination is most reliable. The affected foot appears more pronated and deformed compared to the unaffected foot. Muscle testing will show a strength deficit. An easy test to perform in the office is the single foot raise.
Non Surgical Treatment
What remedies work best depends on the source of your pain. Stretches help tightened, overused muscles to relax, and exercises help weakened ones to regain the strength they need to hold your foot in its proper place. Prescription orthotics add extra support and help your arch more efficiently distribute weight. Changing your shoes to ones that better cushion and brace your foot also help. Generally flatfoot pain doesn?t require surgery, unless the problem was caused by a torn tendon. You may then need a procedure to repair the damaged tissue and realign your arch.
If you have pain that has not been responsive to other treatments, there is a new non-surgical treatment that was recently approved by the FDA. ESWT (extracorporeal shockwave therapy) uses strong electrohydraulic acoustic (sound) energy that triggers the body?s natural repair mechanism. This treatment method is safe, effective and requires a very short recovery period compared to older surgical techniques.
So how do you prevent plantar fasciitis? Factors which can be controlled include training progression, environmental factors, shoes, and strength and flexibility exercises. A useful guideline for a safe training progression is ?the 10% rule.? Limit increases in distance or intensity to 10% a week. For example, if a person is running 60 minutes at a session, 4 times a week, or 240 minutes, she or he can probably increase the running time to 264 minutes (240 + 10%), the following week if all else remains the same. Terrain is also an important factor in training. Running 30 minutes on hills is very different from running 30 minutes on flat surfaces in terms of the forces on the legs and feet. Work up gradually to increase your running time on hills. Also lean forward when running downhill. If you run on a banked or crowned surface, vary the direction you run in so you alternate which leg is higher and which leg is lower on the bank. If you know concrete or asphalt is causing you discomfort, try running on a cinder or composite track. If you are going on vacation and are not used to running on sand or grass, don?t spend your whole vacation doing it.