Plantar Fasciitis- A Common Source of Foot Pain

By: Brad Homan, D.O.

PlantarFasciitis_SM.jpgFoot pain is suffered by athletes and non-athletes alike. It can be caused by many things such as ligament sprains, bunions, and inflammation of the joints of the foot. One common source of pain is plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that starts at the heel and spreads the length of the bottom of the foot. The plantar fascia acts as a shock absorber for the foot and is therefore susceptible to a great deal of stress. As with any other structure of the body, when too much stress is placed on the plantar fascia- whether it be a sudden unexpected step off a curb or chronic stress from running or walking on hard surfaces- the structure can become inflamed and painful.

Typically, the pain from plantar fasciitis begins at the heel where the structure originates. As the injury progresses the pain extends from the heel to the toes. Usually the first step after prolonged sitting or rising from bed in the morning will cause a sharp pain in the foot. Wearing shoes with poor support or high heeled shoes can exacerbate the injury. Individuals with flat feet or high arches are both susceptible to this injury, as are those with average arches but who suffer from tight calf muscles. Plantar fasciitis can be caused by prolonged standing, running, and jumping sports.

Conservative treatment for plantar fasciitis is usually successful if the injury is addressed early enough. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, cold therapy, and a good stretching program can be very beneficial to alleviate the symptoms of plantar fasciitis. In worse cases a visit to your orthopedic physician or podiatrist is warranted- leaving plantar fasciitis untreated can result in chronic pain and worsening of the injury. Early physician intervention may include a prescription for both anti-inflammatory medication and physical therapy. The physical therapists can use different modalities to help alleviate the pain as well as provide stretching and strengthening exercises. Also beneficial is a special splint (provided by your physician) worn at night to keep the lower leg and foot in a stretched position. If this intervention does not help, the next course of action by the physician may be an injection of a corticosteroid for more localized treatment of inflammation. In worst case scenarios, surgery may be required to repair or release the plantar fascia.

Prevention is key in regard to plantar fasciitis. Whether you are an avid runner or a female who wears high-heeled shoes to work every day, a comprehensive stretching program will benefit you- focusing on stretching your calves, achilles tendon, and toes. Make sure your shoes have proper support and cushion- this may mean buying a pair of insoles for shoe wear worn at work. And remember, don't ignore foot pain. The earlier you begin treatment the sooner your symptoms will resolve, which means getting back to sport or other activities you enjoy.