The plantar fascia is made up of 3 distinct parts: the medial, central, and lateral bands. The central plantar fascia is the thickest and strongest section, and this segment is also the most likely to be involved with plantar fasciitis. In normal circumstances, the plantar fascia acts like a windlass mechanism to provide tension and support through the arch. It functions as a tension bridge in the foot, providing both static support and dynamic shock absorption.
Training on improper, hard and/or irregular surfaces as well as excessive track work in spiked shoes, or steep hill running, can stress the plantar fascia past its limits of elasticity, leading to injury. Finally, failure in the early season to warm up gradually gives the athlete insufficient time for the structures of the foot to re-acclimate and return to a proper fitness level for intensive exercise. Such unprepared and repeated trauma causes microscopic tearing, which may only be detected once full-blown plantar fasciitis and accompanying pain and debilitation have resulted. If the level of damage to the plantar fascia is significant, an inflammatory reaction of the heel bone can produce spike-like projections of new bone, known as heel spurs. Indeed, plantar fasciitis has occasionally been refereed to as heel spur syndrome, though such spurs are not the cause of the initial pain but are instead a further symptom of the problem. While such spurs are sometimes painless, in other cases they cause pain or disability in the athlete, and surgical intervention to remove them may be required. A dull, intermittent pain in the heel is typical, sometimes progressing to a sharp, sustained discomfort. Commonly, pain is worse in the morning or after sitting, later decreasing as the patient begins walking, though standing or walking for long periods usually brings renewal of the pain.
Most patients with plantar fasciitis describe a sharp or stabbing pain on the bottom of the heel that is most severe when they first get up in the morning or after a period of resting. Some may feel like the heel is bruised while others may describe tightness or even a pulling sensation on the heel or arch.
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
Careful attention to footwear is critical. Every effort should be made to wear comfortable shoes with proper arch support, fostering proper foot posture. Should arch supports prove insufficient, an orthotic shoe should be considered. Fortunately, most cases of plantar fasciitis respond well to non-operative treatment. Recovery times however vary enormously from one athlete to another, depending on age, overall health and physical condition as well as severity of injury. A broad period between 6 weeks and 6 months is usually sufficient for proper healing. Additionally, the mode of treatment must be flexible depending on the details of a particular athlete’s injury. Methods that prove successful in one patient, may not improve the injury in another. Early treatment typically includes the use of anti-inflammatory medication, icing, stretching activities, and heel inserts and splints. Cortisone injections may be necessary to achieve satisfactory healing and retard inflammation. In later stages of the rehabilitation process, typically after the first week, ice should be discontinued and replaced with heat and massage.
In cases that do not respond to any conservative treatment, surgical release of the plantar fascia may be considered. Plantar fasciotomy may be performed using open, endoscopic or radiofrequency lesioning techniques. Overall, the success rate of surgical release is 70 to 90 percent in patients with plantar fasciitis. Potential risk factors include flattening of the longitudinal arch and heel hypoesthesia as well as the potential complications associated with rupture of the plantar fascia and complications related to anesthesia.