Plantar fasciitis is the type of menacing injury that afflicts nearly a quarter of a million people in Canada every year. It strikes fear into the hearts of athletes and non-athletic individuals alike. This is because it is an example of an overuse injury and doesn’t discriminate between the overuse suffered by a runner gobbling up long distances every day and that suffered by those who are on their feet all day, such as cashiers. A plantar fasciitis brace may be one solution to the problem, but we also discuss others below.
Plantar fasciitis causes foot arch pain and/or heel pain. Morning foot pain is a signature symptom. The main cause of these symptoms is an inflammation, thickening and/or degeneration of the plantar fascia.
Although the reasons why one may succumb to plantar fasciitis are many and varied, so are the treatments for this injury. Below are a just a few of the most effective ways to treat plantar fasciitis and how they work.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can reduce inflammation and help reduce pain for those with plantar fasciitis. NSAIDs come in pills and creams. A doctor may also suggest corticosteroid shots if you have tried nonsurgical treatment for several weeks without success. Shots can relieve pain, but the relief is often short-term. The shots themselves can be painful, and repeated doses can damage the heel pad and the plantar fascia.
Wearing a Plantar Fasciitis Brace
The bulk of treatments fall in the orthopedic support category. A plantar fasciitis brace can help stabilize, strengthen, stretch and heal the immediate cause of pain (inflammation). It can also address the long-term root of the injury (structural problems with the foot).
Patients with low arches experience increased stress on the plantar fascia with foot strike and have a decreased ability to absorb the forces that are generated by foot strike. Shoes with good shock absorption and the right arch support are the best place to start when treating plantar fasciitis with orthopedic supports. Shoe orthotics, such as heel cups, shoe inserts, drug store orthotics and prescribed custom orthotics can be used to cushion the heel.
Night splints are a tried, tested and proven example of a plantar fasciitis brace. Splints hold the foot with the toes pointed up and with the foot and ankle at a 90-degree angle. This position applies a constant, gentle stretch to the plantar fascia. Their effectiveness is believed to derive from the rest and healing provided by the constant stretching. In addition, the passive stretching helps prevent microtrauma at the plantar fascia–bone interface with the first steps out of bed in the morning. Some studies suggest that the splints are especially useful for those with plantar fasciitis symptoms for longer than 12 months.
Heat and Cold
As with many injuries, hot and cold treatments can be used to great effect to reduce the inflammation. They will also relieve the pain associated with plantar fasciitis. Apply ice on your heel and avoid using only heat on your foot, such as from a heating pad or a heat pack for at least the first 2 or 3 days. Instead, use contrast baths, which alternate hot and cold water. Make sure you end with a soak in cold water.
Physical therapy doesn’t always mean visiting a professional. There are many stretches and exercises you can do at home to help relieve the pain and other symptoms of plantar fasciitis. Completing simple exercises such as toe stretches, calf stretches and towel stretches daily can help your ligament become more flexible and strengthen the arch muscles. Of course, formal physical therapy instruction can help make sure you properly stretch your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia ligament as well.
Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy
Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy (ESWT) is one of the more recent treatments proposed for plantar fasciitis. The therapy bombards the tissue with high-pressure sound waves to stimulate blood flow for a beneficial immune response. This stimulates healing. and shuts down the neuronal pain pathways through the pulses hitting the affected nerves. ESWT has been observed to increase blood flow in the treated area and increased endothelial nitric oxide levels, stimulating the healing process. It is recommend that it be used only after other non-invasive, proven measures have failed.
Doctors usually consider surgery only for severe cases that do not improve. If your symptoms don’t improve in six to 12 months with other treatments, your doctor may recommend release surgery. Plantar fascia release involves cutting part of the plantar fascia ligament in order to release the tension and relieve inflammation.