There are many diagnoses within the differential of heel pain; however, plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain for which professional care is sought. Approximately 10% of the United States population experiences bouts of heel pain, which results in 1 million visits per year to medical professionals for treatment of plantar fasciitis. The annual cost of treatments for plantar fasciitis is estimated to be between $192 and $376 million dollars. The etiology of this condition is multifactorial, and the condition can occur traumatically; however, most cases are from overuse stresses.
The most frequent cause is an abnormal motion of the foot called excessive pronation. Normally, while walking or during long distance running, your foot will strike the ground on the heel, then roll forward toward your toes and inward to the arch. Your arch should only dip slightly during this motion. If it lowers too much, you have what is known as excessive pronation. For more details on pronation, please see the section on biomechanics and gait. Clinically not only those with low arches, but those with high arches can sometimes have plantar fasciitis. The mechanical structure of your feet and the manner in which the different segments of your feet are linked together and joined with your legs has a major impact on their function and on the development of mechanically caused problems. Merely having "flat feet" won't take the spring out of your step, but having badly functioning feet with poor bone alignment will adversely affect the muscles, ligaments, and tendons and can create a variety of aches and pains. Excess pronation can cause the arch of your foot to stretch excessively with each step. It can also cause too much motion in segments of the foot that should be stable as you are walking or running. This "hypermobility" may cause other bones to shift and cause other mechanically induced problems.
People with this condition sometimes describe the feeling as a hot, sharp sensation in the heel. You usually notice the pain first thing in the morning when you stand. After walking for a period of time, the pain usually lessens or even disappears. However, sharp pain in the center of the heel may return after resting for a period of time and then resuming activity.
After you describe your symptoms and discuss your concerns, your doctor will examine your foot. Your doctor will look for these signs. A high arch, an area of maximum tenderness on the bottom of your foot, just in front of your heel bone. Pain that gets worse when you flex your foot and the doctor pushes on the plantar fascia. The pain improves when you point your toes down. Limited "up" motion of your ankle. Your doctor may order imaging tests to help make sure your heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis and not another problem. X-rays provide clear images of bones. They are useful in ruling out other causes of heel pain, such as fractures or arthritis. Heel spurs can be seen on an x-ray. Other imaging tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound, are not routinely used to diagnose plantar fasciitis. They are rarely ordered. An MRI scan may be used if the heel pain is not relieved by initial treatment methods.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatments you can do at home include rest. Try to avoid activities that put stress on your feet. This can be hard, especially if your job involves being on your feet for hours at a time, but giving your feet as much rest as possible is the first step in reducing the pain of plantar fasciitis. Use ice or a cold compress to reduce pain and inflammation. Do this three or four times a day for about 20 minutes at a time until the pain goes away. Take anti-inflammatory medications. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation in the affected area. Your doctor may also prescribe a medication called a corticosteroid to help treat severe pain. Exercise your feet and calves. When the pain is gone, do calf and foot stretches and leg exercises to make your legs as strong and flexible as possible. This can help you avoid getting plantar fasciitis again. Ask your coach, athletic trainer, or a physical therapist to show you some leg exercises. Rolling a tennis ball under your foot can massage the area and help the injury heal. Talk to your doctor about shoe inserts or night splints. Shoe inserts can give your feet added support to aid in the healing process. Night splints keep your calf muscles gently flexed, helping to keep your plantar fascia from tightening up overnight. Have a trainer or sports injury professional show you how to tape your foot. A proper taping job allows your plantar fascia to get more rest. You should tape your foot each time you exercise until the pain is completely gone. For people who get repeated sports injuries, it can help to see a sports medicine specialist. These experts are trained in evaluating things like an athlete's running style, jumping stance, or other key moves. They can teach you how to make the most of your body's strengths and compensate for any weaknesses. Once you're healed, look for the silver lining in your bench time. You may find that what you learn from having an injury leads you to play a better game than ever before.
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.