One of the most common causes of pain in the heel is plantar fasciitis. A classic symptom of this disorder is severe pain with the first few steps taken in the morning. In general, plantar fasciitis can be quickly resolved especially if the interval between the onset of symptoms and start of treatment is short. There are many treatment options for plantar fasciitis, including rest, strengthening, stretching, arch support, orthotics, change of shoes, anti-inflammatory agents, night splints and surgery.
This painful foot disorder is usually caused by collagen degeneration of the plantar fascia at the point where it connects to the heel. The plantar fascia is a ligament on the sole of the foot from the heel to the toes. This ligament supports the arch of the foot, and micro-tears in the plantar fascia can lead to inflammation and pain.
Plantar fasciitis usually resolves itself, but the healing process can take 6 to 18 months. This amount of time can lead to frustration for both patients and doctors. Rest works best for about 25% of patients, but this may not be an ideal treatment option for athletes, active adults, or individuals whose line of work require a lot of walking.
Stretching and strengthening programs are effective treatment methods for plantar fasciitis. Increasing the flexibility of the calf muscles, Achilles tendon and plantar fascia help to alleviate the pain. Strengthening exercises that focus on the muscles of the foot also help to relieve the symptoms.
Wearing shoes that fit properly, provide adequate cushioning and arch support also contribute to an improvement in the condition. Likewise, over-the-counter arch supports and orthotics are cost-effective treatment options for many patients with plantar fasciitis. Orthotics made of dense materials that are soft enough to walk on comfortably tend to be most effective. These devices are available over the counter, or they can be custom-made.
To lessen the intense pain accompanying the first few steps of sufferers in the morning, patients may wear night splints designed to keep the ankle in a neutral position overnight. A night splint allows the calf and plantar fascia to remain stretched during sleep. This allows healing to take place and creates less tension with the first step upon getting up in the morning. Night splints can be custom-made, but you can also buy them over the counter.
Anti-inflammatory agents are often used in the treatment of plantar fasciitis. This includes the use of ice, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and cortisone injections.
Only in the most extreme cases is surgery recommended for the treatment of plantar fasciitis. This involves the surgical release of the plantar fascia, and does not guarantee 100% success. Potential risks involved in surgery include flattening of the arch, infection, and complications.