Plantar Fasciitis: Treatment Pearls
by Douglas Richie, Jr. D.P.M., President Elect AAPSM (2003 – 2004)
Epidemic Of Heel Pain:
Heel pain is the most common musculoskeletal complaint of patients presenting to podiatric practitioners throughout the country. It is well-recognized that subcalcaneal pain syndrome, commonly attributed to plantar fascitis, is a disease entity that is increasing in its incidence, owing partly to the fact that it has a predilection for people between the age of 40 and 60, the largest age segment in our population.
The orthopedic and podiatric literature have been filled with original scientific investigations and anecdotal reports about the appropriate surgical and non-surgical approach to plantar fascitis. The vast majority of these scientific articles deal with the general patient population presenting with heel pain. There is a growing consensus of opinion that plantar fascitis is best treated non-surgically with the vast majority of patients becoming asymptomatic within twelve months of the onset of symptoms.
While patience, rest and tolerance of pain are virtues recommended to the patient presenting with plantar fascitis, different treatment strategies must be employed when dealing with the athlete.This article will focus on the differences in treating plantar fascitis in athletes vs. the general, sedentary population.
Subcalcaneal pain syndrome in athletes is thought to be brought on by an overload of the plantar fascia.However, the mechanism of this overload is debated.Overload causes micro-tears at the fascia-bone interface of the calcaneus or within the substance of the plantar fascia alone.The central band of the plantar fascia is primarily affected where a hypercellular, inflammatory response occurs within the fibers of the fascia, leading to degenerative changes.
A spur may result from further inflammation but is not implicated as the primary source of heel pain.Many studies have shown the presence of spurs on the heels of asymptomatic patients.One study found that only 10% of all calcaneal spurs visible on x-ray were actually symptomatic.
Other authors have attributed “painful heel syndrome” to an entrapment of either the medial calcaneal nerve or the first branch of the lateral plantar nerve.However, the mechanism of entrapment proposed by these authors is still related to overload of the soft tissue and fascial structures on the plantar and medial aspect of the calcaneus.
Although heel pain is common, there is no commonality of opinion of the biomechanical etiology of this syndrome.Contributing factors reported in the literature include leg length inequality, pronation of the subtalar joint, restricted ankle joint dorsiflexion, weakness of plantar flexion, high arched feet, low arched feet and heel strike shock.Studies have shown that decreased arch height has shown no correlation to the development of plantar fascitis in runners.In fact, it is well accepted that the common athlete presenting with heel pain has a medium to high-arched foot.
Scherer and coworkers have given the best insight into the pathomechanics of plantar fascitis.Their study proposed that supination around the longitudinal axis of the midtarsal joint is a common feature in over 100 feet presenting with heel pain.Supination about the longitudinal axis of the midtarsal joint can occur in two primary situations:when the heel everts past perpendicular (heel valgus) or when a forefoot valgus deformity is present (sometimes accompanied by rearfoot varus).
TREATMENT STRATEGIES FOR THE ATHLETE
In most cases, the goal of the athlete is to quickly return to activities to minimize loss of fitness and performance.This will put pressure on the treating practitioner to be more aggressive than treating cases of more sedentary patients.
A survey was conducted by this author of the board members of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine two years ago to compare treatment protocols for athletes vs. standard population.The following treatment pearls were elicited:
1) Assignment to alternative activity
The athlete must be encouraged to maintain cardiovascular fitness during rest from damaging activities that may delay healing.For the runner, dancer or volleyball player, this means a complete cessation from running and jumping activities until acute symptoms subside.On the other hand, the athlete should be assigned to alternative cardiovascular fitness activities that minimize impact and loading on the plantar fascia including stationary cycling, swimming, upper body weight machines, and low resistance flat-footed stair master machines.
2) Change and modulation of footwear
Footwear analysis is critical for evaluating athletes with subcalcaneal pain.The footwear may be a contributory factor and can be utilized as a powerful treatment modality.Athletesshould be placed into shoes that have a minimal 1″ heel height with a strong stable midfoot shank and relative uninhibited forefoot flexibility.The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine has a list of recommended footwear for the athlete that can be obtained on their web site:www.aapsm.org.It is well recognized that recent trends in athletic footwear have actually predisposed to greater frequency of plantar fascitis due to the fact that athletic shoes have weaker midsoles with newer designs.The popular “two-piece” outsoles with an exposed midsole cause a hinge effect across the midfoot placing excessive strain on the plantar fascia in the running and jumping athlete.These shoes must be eliminated if the injured athlete is wearing them.Careful attention must be paid to having the athlete keep shoes on in the house and during all standing and walking activities.Barefoot and sandal-wearing activities are prohibited.
3) Home therapy
Athletes are accustomed to designing and participating in their own training programs.They are willing participants in their own treatment programs. Heel cord stretching is central to the rehabilitation process to decrease load on the plantar fascia and encourage healing.The use of plantar fascia night splints has been well proven to be a treatment adjunct for plantar fascitis by placing the heel cord and the plantar fascia on a sustained static stretch during sleeping hours while preventing the normal contractures that occur in the relaxed foot position during sleep.Having the athlete roll or massage their foot on a golf ball or tennis ball is helpful to improve blood flow and break down adhesions in the injury site.
4) Custom foot orthoses
Intervention with semi-rigid custom foot orthoses has been well proven in many prospective and retrospective studies showing successful outcomes in patients with plantar fascitis.In the athlete, the use of foot orthoses should be considered earlier than in the average sedentary patient because of the fact that the athlete will be subjecting their feet to greater stresses during treatment and certainly after return to activity.Athletic footwear is more amenable to semi-rigid and rigid orthotic therapy than are casual shoes worn by sedentary patients.Sports podiatrists are more likely to employ arch taping procedures as a precursor to or adjunct to orthotic therapy.Athletes respond very favorably to the immediate intervention and relief obtained by expertly applied arch taping procedures.
5) Physical therapy
Athletes are amenable to referral for physical therapy because they are willing to invest the extra time to expedite recovery.Many athletes are used to going to the training room for hands on rehabilitation.Athletes appreciate a partnership between the sports podiatrist and the physical rehabilitation specialist.
6) Anti-inflammatory medication
Sports podiatrists should be cautioned against over-aggressive use of anti-inflammatories in treating the athlete.While it is tempting to utilize corticosteroid injections to expedite healing, athletes are often skeptical of receiving this treatment and are certainly at greater risk for sequela of over-ambitious use of steroid injections.There are reports in the literature of athletes undergoing spontaneous rupture of the plantar fascia after even single injections of their plantar fascia with corticosteroid.The conservative, biomechanical interventions outlined above should be implemented before considering injection therapy.
Athletes presenting with plantar fascitis must be treated aggressively because they have immediate needs and long-range goals that are different than those seen in the average sedentary patient with heel pain.It is important to be aggressive and employ a variety of modalities and treatments when formulating a treatment plan for the athlete.At the same time, caution should be made about the overzealous use of quick fixes, including corticosteroid injections because of the potential deleterious effect on athlete.
The cornerstone of plantar fascitis treatment for the athlete is biomechanical.Podiatric practitioners possess the greatest skill set and knowledge available in medicine today to adequately address the pathomechanics of plantar fascia overload.The use of properly casted and designed custom foot orthoses should be the cornerstone of non-surgical treatment of subcalcaneal pain in the athlete.
Resistant Plantar Fasciitis Treatment Program (Initial)
Contributed by Richard Bouche D.P.M. , William Olson, D.P.M., Stephen Pribut, D.P.M., Douglas Richie, Jr,. D.P.M.
PHASE 1- Acute Phase:
- Goal decrease acute pain and inflammation:
- absolute or relative rest- Decrease sports activity to avoid rebound pain
- ICE: 2 appliations of 20 minutes per day
PHASE 2- Rehabilitation Phase:
- Further decrease pain and inflammation:
- contrast baths
- Maintain/increase flexibility of injured (and surrounding) tissue:
- gentle stretching exercises: calf, hamstring, posterior muscle groups
PHASE 3- Functional Phase:
- Functionally strengthen intrinsic muscles of the foot
- closed chain therapeutic exercise
- Doming of Arch (towel toe curl)
- closed chain therapeutic exercise
- Protect injured area during functional activity
- stability running or other appropriate athletic shoes
- orthoses as needed
Note: this is probably the most important phase because it prepares the patient for their return to activity. Care needs to be taken at this stage not to allow the patient to overdo these exercises and stay within their limits as re-injury can easily occur.
PHASE 4- Return To Activity
Return to desired sport activity: gradual, systematic, “to tolerance”
Initiate preventive strategies:
appropriate athletic shoewear
functional exercises (i.e., pilates, plyometrics)
revise training program
Note: Be careful in the first months return to exercise to avoid recurrence of pain.
Consider shock wave therapy if there is a 6 month failure and a failure after repeated modification and remaking of orthotics.
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Common cycling injuries are often due to trying to do, “too much, too soon”, but may also be due to improper equipment, biomechanics, technique, or bike fit. As with all athletic injuries, pain that is persistent indicates a need to seek treatment from a sports medicine specialist familiar with cycling injuries.
1. “Hot foot” (numbness and burning in the ball of the foot)
Impingement of small nerve branches between the second and third or third and fourth toes can cause swelling which results in numbness, tingling, or burning, or sharp shooting pains into the toes. Loosening shoe toe straps, wearing wider shoes with a stiffer sole and using anatomical footbed with a metarsal pad will help alleviate the problem.
Besides tight shoes, another risk factor is small pedals, especially if you have large feet. Small pedal surfaces concentrate pressure on the ball of the foot. Switching to larger pedals may be the cure. Re-focus the pressure on the ball of the foot by moving the cleats towards the rear of the shoe. If your cycling shoes have flexible soles like most mountain bike shoes, they’ll be less able to diffuse pressure.
Physician-designed custom orthotics provide biomechanical benefits and can be made with built-in “neuroma pads”. Cycling orthotics are different than those for runners, as cycling is a forefoot activity, not a heel-strike activity.
Cortisone injections occasionally may be helpful for symptomatic relief, but they do not address the cause of the pain.
The sesamoids are two small “seed-like” bones found beneath the big toe joint. Injury to these tiny bones can result in inflammation or even fracture, leading to debilitating pain and inactivity. Sesamoiditis can be relieved with proper shoe selection, accommodative padding, and foot orthoses.
1. Achilles tendonitis
Irritation and inflammation of the tendon that attaches to the back of the heel done can be caused by improper pedaling, seat height, lack of a proper warm-up, or overtraining. This condition is usually seen in more experienced riders and can be treated with ice, rest, aspirin, or other anti-inflammatory medications. Chronic pain or any swelling should be professionally evaluated. Floating pedals which allow excessive foot pronation may also worsen this condition.
2. Shin splints
Pain to either side of the leg bone, caused by muscle or tendon inflammation, which may be related to a muscle imbalance between opposing muscle groups in the leg. It is commonly related to excessive foot pronation (collapsing arch). Proper stretching, changing pedals, and corrective orthoses that limit pronation can help.
Some intrinsic knee problems like swelling, clicking, or popping should be immediately evaluated by a sports medicine specialist. Cartilage irritation or deterioration, usually under the knee-cap, can be caused by biomechanical imbalance, improper saddle height, or faulty foot positioning on the pedals. Riding in too high a gear “mashing”, excessive uphill climbing, or standing on the pedals all may aggravate the problem. Cleated shoes or touring shoes with ribbed soles that limit side-to-side motion can cause knee pain if the knees, feet, and pedals are misaligned.
Pain under the kneecap. Most chondromalacia sufferers can ride at some level no matter how sever the degeneration.
2. Patellar Tendonitis
Strain of the tendon which attaches the kneecap to the leg, this injury often occurs in the novice cyclist or early in the cycling season. The first sign of a problem may be an ominous twinge after cycling in too hard a gear.
Bike fit is key; have a professional check your fit and make bike modifications as needed.
Carefully choose the shoes you will wear in cycling.
Train properly using adequate warm-up and cool-down. If you are doing “too much, too soon” and start having pain, reduce training frequency, intensity, and time.
Pain is not normal and may indicate a medical condition. Seek medical attention from a sports medicine specialist.
Before beginning any exercise program, be sure to check with your physician.
-The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM)
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Blue Ridge Foot and Ankle Clinic
Charlottesville Podiatrist Location: 887 A Rio E Ct., Charlottesville VA, 22911 (434) 979-8116
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Blue Ridge Foot and Ankle Clinic has been a part of the Waynesboro and Charlottesville communities for over 20 years. Podiatrists Dr. Kevin Murray and Dr. Stewart Chang offer services in sports podiatry, foot and ankle problems and diabetic foot care. Our friendly, accommodating team of Certified Podiatric Medical Assistants look forward to welcoming
you to our practice.
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Inflammation is your body’s response to injuries, trauma, illness or infections, in which your body tries to increase the blood flow to the affected area. The accumulation of fluids, however, can be painful and result in swelling, increased warmth and redness of the skin, and even bruising. Acute inflammation is the immediate response to trauma, injury, irritation or surgery, and will usually occur within two hours of the event of injury. Note that acute inflammation is different from chronic inflammation, which is more regular, does not always follow a traumatic injury, is caused by a virus or bacteria and therefore treated differently.
Acute inflammation treatment should be responded to with “RICE to the D” therapy: the age old Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation, mixed with a Diagnosis from your podiatrist, since your podiatrist can best determine the cause of your foot and ankle pain and swelling. Remember to R: stay off your foot or ankle since pressure on it may cause further injury. I: Apply an ice pack or bag of ice to intervals of 15 minutes to the injured area, placing a thin towel between the ice and your skin. Wait for 40 minutes before icing again. Repeat as desired – the more the better! C: you can control swelling with an elastic wrap around the inflamed area, and E: raise your foot or ankle slightly above the level of your heart to reduce the swelling. Your podiatrist may also suggest that you take NSAIDs. With RICE, your symptoms will most likely improve within a few days. If your symptoms persist or worsen, be sure to see your podiatrist to receive a proper diagnosis and care.