Heel pain is the most common musculoskeletal complaint of patients presenting to podiatric practitioners throughout the country. It is well-recognized that subcalcaneal pain syndrome, commonly attributed to plantar fascitis, is a disease entity that is increasing in its incidence, owing partly to the fact that it has a predilection for people between the age of 40 and 60, the largest age segment in our population.
The most common cause of plantar fasciitis relates to faulty structure of the foot. For example, people who have problems with their arches, either overly flat feet or high-arched feet, are more prone to developing plantar fasciitis. Wearing non-supportive footwear on hard, flat surfaces puts abnormal strain on the plantar fascia and can also lead to plantar fasciitis. This is particularly evident when one’s job requires long hours on the feet. Obesity may also contribute to plantar fasciitis.
Among the symptoms for Plantar Fasciitis is pain usually felt on the underside of the heel, often most intense with the first steps after getting out of bed in the morning. It is commonly associated with long periods of weight bearing or sudden changes in weight bearing or activity. Plantar Fasciitis also called “policeman’s heel” is presented by a sharp stabbing pain at the bottom or front of the heel bone. In most cases, heel pain is more severe following periods of inactivity when getting up and then subsides, turning into a dull ache.
A thorough subjective and objective examination from a physiotherapist is usually sufficient to diagnose plantar fasciitis. Occasionally, further investigations such as an X-ray, ultrasound or MRI may be required to assist with diagnosis and assess the severity of the condition.
Non Surgical Treatment
Shoe therapy, finding and wearing shoes that allow your feet to be in their natural position, is the most important treatment for plantar fasciosis. Shoes that possess a flat heel, are wide in the toe box, lack toe spring, and have flexible soles are most appropriate for this foot problem. An increasing number of shoe companies are producing shoes with these design characteristics, but shoes that include all these features are still difficult to find. For some suggested footwear models, see our clinic’s shoe list. Most conventional footwear can be modified by stretching the shoe’s upper, stretching out the toe spring, removing the shoe’s liner, and cutting the shoe at certain key points to allow more room for your foot. Visit your podiatrist to help you with these shoe modifications. Correct Toes is another helpful conservative treatment method for plantar fasciosis. Correct Toes addresses the root cause of your plantar fasciosis by properly aligning your big toe and reducing the tension created by your abductor hallucis longus on the blood vessels that feed and “cleanse” the tissues of your plantar fascia. Your plantar fasciosis-related pain will diminish when the dead tissue is washed away. A rehabilitation program, which includes targeted stretches and other exercises, for your foot may be helpful too. Dietary changes and aerobic exercise are particularly important for overweight individuals who have plantar fasciosis. Water aerobics may be most appropriate for those individuals whose pain does not allow them to walk or cycle. Physical therapy may be another helpful treatment modality for this problem, and includes ultrasound, electrical stimulation, contrast baths, and range-of-motion exercises. Massage, acupuncture, reflexology, and magnet therapy are holistic approaches that may be helpful.
If you consider surgery, your original diagnosis should be confirmed by the surgeon first. In addition, supporting diagnostic evidence (such as nerve-conduction studies) should be gathered to rule out nerve entrapment, particularly of the first branch of the lateral plantar nerve and the medial plantar nerve. Blood tests should consist of an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), rheumatoid factor, human leukocyte antigen B27 (HLA-B27), and uric acid. It’s important to understand that surgical treatment of bone spurs rarely improves plantar fasciitis pain. And surgery for plantar fasciitis can cause secondary complications-a troubling condition known as lateral column syndrome.
Exercises designed to stretch both your calf muscles and your plantar fascia (the band of tissue that runs under the sole of your foot) should help relieve pain and improve flexibility in the affected foot. A number of stretching exercises are described below. It’s usually recommended that you do the exercises on both legs, even if only one of your heels is affected by pain. This will improve your balance and stability, and help relieve heel pain. Towel stretches. Keep a long towel beside your bed. Before you get out of bed in the morning, loop the towel around your foot and use it to pull your toes towards your body, while keeping your knee straight. Repeat three times on each foot. Wall stretches. Place both hands on a wall at shoulder height, with one of your feet in front of the other. The front foot should be about 30cm (12 inches) away from the wall. With your front knee bent and your back leg straight, lean towards the wall until you feel a tightening in the calf muscles of your back leg. Then relax. Repeat this exercise 10 times before switching legs and repeating the cycle. You should practise wall stretches twice a day. Stair stretches. Stand on a step of your stairs facing upstairs, using your banister for support. Your feet should be slightly apart, with your heels hanging off the back of the step. Lower your heels until you feel a tightening in your calves. Hold this position for about 40 seconds, before raising your heels back to the starting position. Repeat this procedure six times, at least twice a day. Chair stretches. Sit on a chair, with your knees bent at right angles. Turn your feet sideways so your heels are touching and your toes are pointing in opposite directions. Lift the toes of the affected foot upwards, while keeping the heel firmly on the floor. You should feel your calf muscles and Achilles tendon (the band of tissue that connects your heel bone to your calf muscle) tighten. Hold this position for several seconds and then relax. Repeat this procedure 10 times, five to six times a day. Dynamic stretches. While seated, roll the arch of your foot (the curved bottom part of the foot between your toes and heel) over a round object, such as a rolling pin, tennis ball or drinks can. Some people find that using a chilled can from their fridge has the added benefit of helping to relieve pain. Move your foot and ankle in all directions over the object for several minutes. Repeat the exercise twice a day.