Plantar fasciitis is a common and often persistent kind of repetitive strain injury afflicting runners, walkers and hikers, and nearly anyone who stands for a living, cashiers, for instance. It causes mainly foot arch pain and/or heel pain. Morning foot pain is a signature symptom. Plantar fasciitis is not the same thing as heel spurs and flat feet, but they are related and often confused. Most people recover from plantar fasciitis with a little rest, arch support (regular shoe inserts or just comfy shoes), and stretching, but not everyone. Severe cases can stop you in your tracks, undermine your fitness and general health, and drag on for years.
The most common acquired flat foot in adults is due to Posterior Tibial Tendon Dysfunction. This develops with repetitive stress on the main supporting tendon of the arch over a long period of time. As the body ages, ligaments and muscles can weaken, leaving the job of supporting the arch all to this tendon. The tendon cannot hold all the weight for long, and it gradually gives out, leading to a progressively lower arch. This form of flat foot is often accompanied by pain radiating behind the ankle, consistent with the course of the posterior tibial tendon. Compounding matters is the fact that the human foot was not originally designed to withstand the types of terrain and forces it is subjected to today. Nowhere in nature do you see the flat hard surfaces that we so commonly walk on in present times. Walking on this type of surface continuously puts unnatural stress on the arch. The fact that the average American is overweight does not help the arch much either-obesity is a leading cause of flat feet as the arch collapses under the excessive bodyweight. Furthermore, the average life span has increased dramatically in the last century, meaning that not only does the arch deal with heavy weight on hard flat ground, but also must now do so for longer periods of time. These are all reasons to take extra care of our feet now in order to prevent problems later.
Pain in arch of foot is really the only symptom of this condition. It is unlikely to see any swelling or bruising and instead there will be a deep tender spot near the heel. Occasionally the pain may radiate further down the foot. With this condition, pain will usually be felt first thing in the morning or after periods of sitting. This is because the plantar fascia tightens and shortens slightly when there is no weight on it and by standing on it it suddenly stretches and becomes painful. After a few steps it starts to loosen off and the pain may subside. If this is the same pattern of pain you experience it is quite likely you have plantar fasciits. Pain may also be felt when walking up stairs or standing on tip-toes (anything that stretches the fascia).
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
Consult a doctor to diagnose the condition and determine the cause. If revealed to be plantar fasciitis, please refer to our article on that injury for further information. Generally arch pain is easy to treat, with the most effective method of treatment being the placement of arch supports in the shoes. This counteracts the strain placed on the arches by biomechanical errors, causing them to cease stretching excessively. A specialist can recommend the inserts suitable to your needs, which will depend on the shape of your arches. These supports should lessen your symptoms within days. If pain is severe you should refrain from running activities until it subsides to avoid risking an aggravation of the injury. To maintain fitness, alter your training program temporarily to be focused on low-impact sports like swimming. Applying ice to the affected area should assist in reducing pain and swelling.
A procedure that involves placing a metallic implant (most commonly) at the junction where the foot meets the ankle. This device causes the physical blockade that prevent the collapse. It is a procedure that is only indicated for mobile feet, and should not be used with rigid flat feet. Dr. Blitz finds this procedure better for younger patients with flexible flat feet where the bone alignment is still developing so that the foot can adapt to function in a better aligned position.
The best method for preventing plantar fasciitis is stretching. The plantar fascia can be stretched by grabbing the toes, pulling the foot upward and holding for 15 seconds. To stretch the calf muscles, place hands on a wall and drop affected leg back into a lunge step while keeping the heel of the back leg down. Keep the back knee straight for one stretch and then bend the knee slightly to stretch a deeper muscle in the calf. Hold stretch for 15 seconds and repeat three times.
Calf Raises. Strengthens the tendons in your heels and calf muscles, which support your arch. Raise up on the balls of your feet as high as possible. Slowly lower down. Do three sets of 10 reps. Progress to doing the raises on stairs (with heels hanging off), and then to single-leg raises. Step Stretch. Improves flexibility in your Achilles tendon and calf-when these areas become tight, the arch gets painfully overloaded. Stand at the edge of a step, toes on step, heels hanging off. Lower your heels down, past the step, then raise back up to the start position. Do three sets of 10 reps. Doming. Works the arch muscles and the tibialis posterior (in the calf and foot) to control excess pronation. While standing, press your toes downward into the ground while keeping the heel planted, so that your foot forms an arch (or dome). Release, and do three sets of 10 reps on each foot. Toe Spread and Squeeze. Targets the interossei muscles of the foot, which support the arch. While sitting, loop a small resistance band around your toes. Spread toes; release. Then place a toe separator (used at nail salons) in between toes. Squeeze toes in; release. Do three sets of 10 reps of each exercise on both feet. Towel Curls. Works the toe-flexor muscles that run along your arch to increase overall foot strength. Lay a small hand towel on the floor, and place one foot on the towel. Using just your toes, scrunch the towel toward you, hold, then slowly push the towel away from you back to start position. Do three sets of 10 reps on each foot.