In middle-age individuals, 90% of the time, heel pain is caused by plantar fasciitis. The plantar fascia is a soft-tissue band, technically a ligament, that supports the hindfoot and midfoot. It is quite prone to inflammation, degeneration and tearing. Let’s quickly dive into this common cause of heel pain.
How Does it Present?
· Heel pain, often sharp, with the first few steps out of bed and after a long day on your feet
· Pain when rising from a seated position after prolonged sitting, such as in a car
· In endurance athletes, pain during and after exercise
· Tenderness on the bottom of the foot, specifically at the heel where the plantar fascia originates
Why Did I Get This?
· Age- middle-agers are prone to this, as they are very active, but their rate of tissue breakdown exceeds their body’s repair rate. This is why younger individuals do not typically get this problem. They have a faster healing rate.
· Poor footwear- shoes that are flimsy, too old or generally unsupportive contribute
· Weight- gaining weight or being overweight overloads the tissue at the lowest point of our body
· Too much activity/overuse- runners, walkers, and athletes repetitively load the plantar fascia, and at times, are in a situation of overuse or too much, too soon
· Poor biomechanics- tight or weak calf muscles, a high arch or flat foot or a foot that excessively pronates or supinates can all contribute
How Do I Treat It?
Patience is the key. This condition may require a month or a year of treatment. Recovery can be slow. The underlying risk factors listed above must be corrected. What works for one patient may not be the best treatment for another. Care must be individualized.
· Rest- yes, this is a dirty, four-letter word for many patients. Plantar fasciitis will NOT improve as long as one continues to run, walk or exercise to the same degree. Sometimes, activity modification will work- fewer miles, less frequent high-impact exercise and/or trying something lower impact such as biking or swimming
· Improve the footwear and minimize going barefoot- remember with shoes, you often get what you pay for. Don’t go cheap!
· Physical Therapy- helps most patients, can be curative for those with mild cases. Will not get the job done by itself for moderate to severe cases
· Orthotics/Inserts- over-the-counter or custom. OTC ones are less expensive and worth a try for mild cases. Custom are more expensive but more beneficial for most patients. Orthotics alone will not cure plantar fasciitis. Other treatments must be combined
· Anti-inflammatory medications- helpful in mild cases caught early. Not helpful in more severe cases or in patients that have had the problem for months or longer
· Cortisone injections- occasionally helpful, occasionally harmful. We rarely utilize these, as they don’t promote healing, only reduce inflammation and can increase the risk of further tearing of the fascia. NEVER get a series of 3 cortisone injections as recommended by some.
· Regenerative injections- very helpful for most. These are meant to “heal the heel!” Platelet-rich plasma, amniotic and umbilical cord injections introduce numerous growth factors to the area to promote tissue regeneration. These are game-changing injections and ones we have provided under ultrasound-guidance successfully now for many years.
· Surgery- we favor a minimally-invasive procedure called the Tenex procedure. Tiny incision, local anesthesia only, no stitches required with minimal healthy tissue disruption. The “old-school” surgeries require larger incisions and involve “releasing”/cutting the fascia off the bone, are less successful, higher risk and have been abandoned by most orthopedic surgeons
In conclusion, heel pain affects a high percentage of middle-age Americans and can range from a nuisance problem to a disabling one. The key here is to seek care early and from someone who can customize a well-constructed treatment plan for you that has a variety of quality interventions. We are here to help!