FAQs on Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a painful foot condition that is often associated with heel spurs. This syndrome involves inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is the band of tissue that spans from the heel along the arch of the foot. Occurring in around 70% of plantar fasciitis cases, a heel spur is a small bony prominence (hook) that forms on the calcaneus (heel bone).

Who is affected by plantar fasciitis?

Although most often seen in middle-aged men and women, plantar fasciitis affects people of all ages. Plantar fasciitis is sometimes seen in people who are overweight or obese, those who have experienced a rapid weight gain, and recreational athletes. In a recent study, up to 22% of runners experienced plantar fasciitis.

What is the incidence of plantar fasciitis?

Over the course of their lives, 10% of the U.S. general population presents with heel pain. Of these people, 83% are active, working adults between the ages of 25 and 65 years old. In a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that plantar fasciitis accounts for an average of 1 million office visit per year.

What causes plantar fasciitis?

In athletes, experts believe that repetitive pounding of the foot causes damage to the fibrous tissue of the foot’s arch. Irritation to the thick ligamentous connective tissue contributes to the pain, as this area is a major transmitter of weight across the foot with activity.

With aging, micro tears of the fascia may simply not repair as well as it used to. The condition is most common in middle aged individuals who have “no idea” what they did to warrant the pain.

What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?

The classic symptoms of plantar fasciitis are pain that is perceived deep in the heel region of the foot. The pain is usually most severe when the patient first stands in the morning, as the arch tissue is tight after rest. However, the pain subsides quickly, but with prolonged standing and/or walking, it continues and persists.

How is plantar fasciitis treated?

There are several options for treating plantar fasciitis. These include:

  • Homecare measures – There are certain things patients can do at home to reduce the pain and swelling associated with plantar fasciitis. Measures include OTC pain relievers, such as Motrin or Aleve, resting the feet for several days, and applying ice for 20 minutes several times each day.
  • Night splints – During sleep, night splints are worn to stretch the calf and arch of the foot. To facilitate stretching, the splint holds the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia in a lengthened position.
  • Orthopedic shoes – Some patients benefit from orthopedic shoes, which have cushioned soles and good arch supports. Also useful are orthotic heel cups and shoe inserts.
  • Physical therapy – To instruct the patient on a series of exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia, the therapist works with the patient for several sessions each week, for a month or so. In a recent clinical study, physical therapy was beneficial for 83% of participants who suffered with plantar fasciitis.
  • Corticosteroid injections – To reduce swelling, the doctor can inject a steroid medication, with or without an anesthetic agent, into the plantar fascia on the side of the foot or directly into the heel. In a 2012 clinical study, researchers reported that injection of steroids into the plantar fascia was an extremely effective procedure for plantar fasciitis treatment.
  • Extracorporeal shock wave therapy – To stimulate healing in the heel and fascia, sound waves are directed at these structures. This therapy is reserved for chronic plantar fasciitis that does not respond to other treatment measures. Many studies show that this treatment option is effective for 70-90% of patients.