What is it?
Plantar fasciitis is a common condition of the foot and heel affecting both athletes and members of the general public. The plantar fascia is a fibrous band of tissue that attaches to the base of the heel and supports the muscles and arch on the base of the foot. When the plantar fascia becomes chronically irritated, it is referred to as plantar fasciitis.
What are the symptoms?
Plantar fasciitis is characterised by pain at the base of the heel. The pain is usually noticed upon waking when people take their first steps of the day. The pain usually settles down after walking around, yet may reappear after sitting for a while and getting up again. The pain can usually be reproduced when the inside of the heel is pressed, and the calf muscles might be noticeably less flexible.
Plantar fasciitis can usually be diagnosed with a physical assessment by a physiotherapist. Left untreated, plantar fasciitis can lead to chronic heel pain, which can have a significant impact on quality of life, interfering with day to day activities.
What are the causes?
The plantar fascia supports the arches in the foot during weight-bearing and acts as a shock absorber. Small tears can appear in the fascia when it is exposed to excess tension and stress over time. While the exact cause is unknown, there are several risk factors that can increase the risk of this condition developing.
These include obesity, excessive foot pronation, inadequate shoe support, prolonged standing and excessive running, as well as calf and tibialis posterior weakness. It has previously been thought that plantar fasciitis is linked to or caused by heel spurs. However, this has been shown to be untrue, and many people have heel spurs without any symptoms.
How can physiotherapy help?
The goal of physiotherapy is to reduce symptoms and support the fascia to reduce and repair any tissue damage. This is done through short term pain reduction strategies such as ice application, rest, activity modification and gentle stretches and taping.
To help reduce the tension on the fascia, lower leg strengthening, and balance exercises will be implemented. On occasion, a night splint can be helpful in keeping the calf muscles lengthened as they often rest in a shortened position overnight.