What Is the Plantar Fascia?The plantar fascia is a long, thick and tough band of tissue that provides support for the medial longitudinal arch of the foot. The plantar fascia is stretched and the arch flattens slightly to absorb the impact each time the heel impacts the ground. This fascia is not very flexible and such repetitive stretching from impact can result in small tears in the fascia.
Plantar Fasciitis SymptomsHeel pain during the first steps of the morning is a classic sign of plantar fasciitis. This pain is the result of the foot resting in plantar flexion overnight, which allows the fascia to shorten. When the shortened fascia is stretched as you get up out of bed the pain increases.
If you have plantar fasciitis you will likely have an increase in pain along the bottom of your foot (the plantar fascia) when you extend your toes. If this motion doesn't increase your symptoms, you may not have a true plantar fasciitis.
Other common signs of plantar fasciitis include increased pain at the start of exercise and when resuming activity after rest, and a history of recent weight gain or a sudden change in exercise intensity, duration or type.
Plantar Fasciitis or Heel Pain SyndromeAlthough plantar fasciitis is frequently diagnosed, there are many other conditions that have similar symptoms and Heel Pain Syndrome is often a more appropriate diagnosis. Heel pain syndrome is a chronic condition that comes on slowly over time and is generally caused by faulty foot and ankle biomechanics rather than overuse.
Plantar Fasciitis and Heel SpursAbout half of the patients with plantar fasciitis have a heel spur. When the plantar fascia becomes chronically inflamed, a heel spur can grow at the attachment point between the fascia and the calcaneous (heel bone). If heel pain is treated early, heel spurs can often be prevented.
Plantar Fasciitis CausesTypical causes of plantar fasciitis include overstretching a tight plantar fascial band, consistent overuse and irritation that results in microtears to the fascia at its calcaneal (heel bone) attachment.
Predisposing factors may include:
- Flat feet
- High arches
- Excessive pronation
- Obesity or sudden weight gain.
- Tight Achilles tendons. (See: Achilles tendon stretch.
- Sudden increase in activity intensity, time or type. (See: The Ten Percent Rule for Increasing Activity)
- Wearing high heels that shorten the calf muscles, Achilles tendon and plantar fascia.
- A sudden change in running or walking surface.
- Prolonged standing or weight bearing.
Plantar Fasciitis TreatmentThe most commonly recommended conservative treatment includes the following:
- Rest and Ice. It's important for those with plantar faciitis to avoid irritating activities, and allow the fascia to rest until pain subsides. Icing the area after use can also help reduce pain and swelling.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories may be recommended by your doctor for 2-4 weeks to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Massage Roller. Massaging the fascia by rolling foot over a 3-4 inch diameter tube such as a rolling pin or soup can has be an effective treatment.
- Wearing a Night Splint. A night splint keeps the foot flexed and the plantar fascia lengthened overnight. For some people this improves recovery times.
- Plantar Fasciitis First Aid Products. First aid products may help you recover faster and more comfortably.
- Other Treatments. Your doctor may also recommend weight loss when appropriate, taping the heel and arch to also help reduce pain, or the use of medial longitudinal arch supports, to help reduce pain while the plantar fascia heals.
Plantar Fasciitis Stretching
A New Stretch Reduces Plantar Fasciitis PainA new stretching technique has proven effective at reducing the pain of plantar faciitis when performed several times a day. It is performed by crossing one leg over the other and pulling the toes toward the shin for a count of ten and repeating ten times. This is a change from the standard treatment that recommends the weight-bearing stretches.
Plantar Fasciitis Strengthening ExercisesThe traditional strengthening exercises for plantar fasciitis include scrunching up a hand towel with the toes or pulling a towel weighted with a soup can across the floor. New research has found that eccentric exercises seem to improve the recovery times of both tendon and plantar fascia injuries.
After exercise, applying a cold pack to the heel at point of maximal tenderness for 15-20 minutes is helpful to relieve pain.
Any foot injury that does not respond to treatment in 1-2 weeks may be more serious. Always consult a physician for a thorough evaluation and diagnosis.
B.F. DiGiovanni, MD, et al. Tissue-Specific Plantar Fascia-Stretching Exercise Enhances Outcomes in Patients with Chronic Heel Pain, The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, 2003: 85:1270-1277.
Lance D. Barry, DPM et al. A Retrospective Study of Standing Gastrocnemius-Soleus Stretching versus Night Splinting in the Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis, The Jrl Foot and Ankle Surgery, Volume 41, Number 4, July/August 2002
Plantar fasciitis, Patient Information. A.D.A.M., Inc.