Plantar fasciitis: How best to treat?

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Authors: Carlton J. Covey and Mark D. Mulder
Date: Sept. 1, 2013
From: Journal of Family Practice(Vol. 62, Issue 9.)
Publisher: Frontline Medical Communications Inc.
Document Type: Case overview
Length: 2,751 words
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CASE * A 43-year-old obese woman seeks advice for left heel pain she has had for 2 months. Before the onset of pain, her activity level had increased as part of a weight loss program. Her pain is at its worst in the morning, with her first few steps; it decreases with continued walking and intensifies again after being on her feet all day. There is no history of trauma, and she reports no paresthesias or radiation of the pain. Her medical history is otherwise unremarkable. She has used ibuprofen sparingly, with limited relief.

If you were this patient's physician, how would you proceed with her care?

Plantar fasciitis (PF) is a common cause of heel pain that affects up to 10% of the US population and accounts for approximately 600,000 outpatient visits annually. (1) The plantar fascia is a dense, fibrous membrane spanning the length of the foot. It originates at the medial calcaneal tubercle, attaches to the phalanges, and provides stability and arch support to the foot. The etiology of PF is unknown, but predisposing factors include overtraining, obesity, pes planus, decreased ankle dorsiflexion, and inappropriate footwear. (2) Limited dorsiflexion due to tightness of the Achilles tendon strains the plantar fascia and can lead to PE Histology shows minimal inflammatory changes, and some experts advocate the term plantar fasciosis to counter the misperception that it is primarily an inflammatory condition. (3)

A patient's history and physical exam findings are the basis for confirming or dismissing a diagnosis of PE Radiologic studies, used judiciously, can rule out important alternative diagnoses that should not be overlooked. Multiple treatment options range from conservative to surgical interventions, although studies of the effectiveness of each modality have had conflicting results. Clinical practice guidelines generally advocate a stepwise approach to treatment.


The differential diagnosis of PF (TABLE) includes significant disorders such as calcaneal stress fracture, entrapment neuropathies (eg, tarsal runnel syndrome), calcaneal rumor, Paget's disease, and systemic arthritidies. (4,5)

What to look for in the history and physical exam

Severe heel pain upon initial weight bearing in the morning or after prolonged periods of inactivity is pathognomonic for PF. (2) Initially the pain presents diffusely, but over time it localizes to the area of the medial calcaneal tubercle. Pain typically subsides with activity but may return with prolonged weight bearing, as it did with the patient in the opening case.

Test range of motion of the foot and ankle. Although this is not needed for diagnosing PF, some patients will exhibit limited ankle dorsiflexion, a predisposing factor for PF. (4,6) Look for heel pad swelling, inflammation, or atrophy, and palpate the heel, plantar fascia, and calcaneal tubercle. Lastly, evaluate for gait abnormalities and the presence of sensory deficits or hypesthesias. (4)

The most common exam finding in PF is pain at the medial calcaneal tubercle,...

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Source Citation

Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition)
Covey, Carlton J., and Mark D. Mulder. "Plantar fasciitis: How best to treat?" Journal of Family Practice, Sept. 2013, p. 466+. Gale Academic Onefile, Accessed 18 Sept. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|A344826535