The Plantar Fascia is a broad, thick band of tissue that runs from under the heel to the front of the foot. Through overuse the fascia can become inflamed and painful at its attachment to the heel bone or calcaneus. The condition is traditionally thought to be inflammation, however this is now believed to be incorrect due to the absence of inflammatory cells within the fascia. The cause of pain is thought to be degeneration of the collagen fibres close to the attachment to the heel bone.
The cause of plantar fasciitis is poorly understood and is thought to likely have several contributing factors. The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of connective tissue that originates from the medial tubercle and anterior aspect of the heel bone. From there, the fascia extends along the sole of the foot before inserting at the base of the toes, and supports the arch of the foot. Originally, plantar fasciitis was believed to be an inflammatory condition of the plantar fascia. However, within the last decade, studies have observed microscopic anatomical changes indicating that plantar fasciitis is actually due to a non-inflammatory structural breakdown of the plantar fascia rather than an inflammatory process. Due to this shift in thought about the underlying mechanisms in plantar fasciitis, many in the academic community have stated the condition should be renamed plantar fasciosis. The structural breakdown of the plantar fascia is believed to be the result of repetitive microtrauma (small tears). Microscopic examination of the plantar fascia often shows myxomatous degeneration, connective tissue calcium deposits, and disorganized collagen fibers. Disruptions in the plantar fascia’s normal mechanical movement during standing and walking (known as the Windlass mechanism) are thought to contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis by placing excess strain on the calcaneal tuberosity.
Plantar fasciitis generally occurs in one foot. Bilateral plantar fasciitis is unusual and tends to be the result of a systemic arthritic condition that is exceptionally rare among athletes. Males suffer from a somewhat greater incidence of plantar fasciitis than females, perhaps as a result of greater weight coupled with greater speed and ground impact, as well as less flexibility in the foot. 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.
Your doctor can usually diagnose plantar fasciitis just by talking to you and examining your feet. Rarely, tests are needed if the diagnosis is uncertain or to rule out other possible causes of heel pain. These can include X-rays of the heel or an ultrasound scan of the fascia. An ultrasound scan usually shows thickening and swelling of the fascia in plantar fasciitis.
Non Surgical Treatment
If you protect your injured plantar fascia appropriately the injured tissues will heal. Inflammed structures will settle when protected from additional damage, which can help you avoid long-standing degenerative changes. Plantar fasciitis may take from several weeks (through to many months) to heal while we await Mother Nature to form and mature the new scar tissue, which takes at least six weeks. During this time period you should be aiming to optimally remould your scar tissue to prevent a poorly formed scar that may become lumpy or potentially re-tear in the future. It is important to lengthen and orientate your healing scar tissue via massage, gentle stretches, and light active exercises. In most cases, your physiotherapist will identify stiff joints within your foot and ankle complex that they will need to loosen to help you avoid plantar fascia overstress.A sign that you may have a stiff ankle joint can be a limited range of ankle bend during a squat manoeuvre. Your physiotherapist will guide you.
The majority of patients, about 90%, will respond to appropriate non-operative treatment measures over a period of 3-6 months. Surgery is a treatment option for patients with persistent symptoms, but is NOT recommended unless a patient has failed a minimum of 6-9 months of appropriate non-operative treatment. There are a number of reasons why surgery is not immediately entertained including. Non-operative treatment when performed appropriately has a high rate of success. Recovery from any foot surgery often takes longer than patients expect. Complications following this type of surgery can and DO occur! The surgery often does not fully address the underlying reason why the condition occurred therefore the surgery may not be completely effective. Prior to surgical intervention, it is important that the treating physician ensure that the correct diagnosis has been made. This seems self-evident, but there are other potential causes of heel pain. Surgical intervention may include extracorporeal shock wave therapy or endoscopic or open partial plantar fasciectomy.