Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammatory process that occurs in the plantar fascia, usually at the insertion to the heel bone (calcaneus). It has been reported that 10% of the worldwide population will suffer from this condition at some point in their lives. The inflammatory process is thought to occur due to repeated trauma to the plantar fascia as it is over-stretched. In other words, the burden on the foot is too great for the plantar fascia to maintain the foot arch and therefore the arch 'collapses' or 'falls' slightly more than it should, thus over-stretching the fascia. This causes damage (micro-tears) in the plantar fascia which triggers the inflammatory response, causing pain. In the vast majority of cases this process occurs at the origin of the plantar fascia at the heel bone.
A common cause of foot arch pain is a stress fracture. They tend to occur from repeated overloading of one of the foot bones from activities such as jumping and running especially if you have suddenly increased your activity level. The breaks in the bone may be small but they can be extremely painful. Stress fractures of the metatarsal bones or the navicular can cause anything from mild to severe foot arch pain. The Tibialis Posterior muscle plays a very important role in supporting the medial arch of the foot. Posterior Tibial Tendonitis can occur either through repetitive use e.g. high impact sports such as soccer or tennis, or from an injury e.g. a fall. This causes the tendon to become inflamed or even torn, resulting in pain on bottom of foot. This pain usually gets worse with activity or when standing for long periods. If the problem persists, the inner side of the foot (known as the medial longitudinal arch of the foot) gradually collapses down, causing flat feet. A simple test for this condition is to stand on one leg and rise up onto your tiptoes. If you cannot, it indicates a problem with the Posterior Tibial tendon. Treatment usually consists of rest, ice, exercises, orthotics and physical therapy.
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.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) can show tendon injury and inflammation but cannot be relied on with 100% accuracy and confidence. The technique and skill of the radiologist in properly positioning the foot with the MRI beam are critical in demonstrating the sometimes obscure findings of tendon injury around the ankle. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) is expensive and is not necessary in most cases to diagnose posterior tibial tendon injury. Ultrasound has also been used in some cases to diagnose tendon injury, but this test again is usually not required to make the initial diagnosis.
Non Surgical Treatment
Treatment for flat feet and fallen arches depends on the severity and cause of the problem. If flat feet cause no pain or other difficulties, then treatment is probably not needed. In other cases, your doctor may suggest one or more of these treatments. Rest and ice to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Stretching exercises. Pain relief medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories. Physical therapy. Orthotic devices, shoe modifications, braces, or casts. Injected medications to reduce inflammation, such as corticosteroids.
As with most surgeries, patients and physicians should consider the surgery only after other, less invasive treatments have proven unproductive. Indications for surgery include Pain. Inability to function. Failure to improve after a six-month course of specific, directed physical therapy. Failure to improve after using arch supports, orthotics, or ankle and foot bracing. Once patients are at that point, the good news is that the procedure has considerably better outcomes than more traditional flat foot surgery. In the past, surgeons would realign and fuse the three hind joints, which would cause patients to lose motion, leaving them with a significantly stiff hind foot, With these newer procedures, if the foot is still flexible, surgeons can realign it and usually restore a close-to-normal or functional range of motion in the joints.
People who run regularly should replace shoes every six months, more frequently if an avid runner. Avoid running or stepping on uneven surfaces. Try to be careful on rocky terrain or hills with loose gravel. Holes, tree stumps and roots are problems if you are trail running. If you have problems with the lower legs, a dirt road is softer than asphalt, which is softer than concrete. Try to pick a good surface if possible. However, if you're racing, be sure to train on the surface you'll eventually run on. Be careful running too many hills. Running uphill is a great workout, but make sure you gradually build this up to avoid injuries. Be careful when running downhill too fast, which can often lead to more injuries than running uphills. Prevent recurrent injuries. Athletes who have experienced ankle injuries previously may benefit from using a brace or tape to prevent recurrent ankle injuries.
Massage therapy is a great way to loosen muscles and help improve mobility in in your feet. As many people with foot pain have discovered, tight muscles in your legs or back can lead to tense foot muscles. All those muscles are connected, so tension in your back can cause tension in your legs which can pull the tendons in your feet and cause stiffness and pain. Getting acupuncture or a professional full body massage are probably the best ways to deal with this, but there are also some simple tricks you can do at home to help keep muscles limber. These are great for loosening up and improving circulation, both before and after exercise. Place a tennis ball under the arch of your bare foot and roll it around, stretching the muscles in your foot and promoting blood flow. You can also roll the ball under your calves and upper legs to work out stiffness and knots. If you feel the tennis ball is too easy, try a lacrosse ball for deeper massaging. This is also demonstrated in the exercise video above. Use a foam roller, those big overpriced rolls of foam that are now available in every department and sporting goods store are fantastic for self-massage (why a roll of foam costs $30 is beyond us, but they do work wonders-our advice is to not waste money on the more expensive fancy grooved ones because even the simplest rollers work great). The exercises you can do with foam rollers seem to be endless, and there are literally hundreds of free videos online showing how to use them to massage every part of your body. Here's one we picked out that specifically targets foot and leg muscles related to arches and plantar fasciitis.