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Plantar fasciitis is a condition thought to be caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, but some new research suggests there may be other causes (see the last link below for more).  The plantar fascia runs from the bottom of your heel to the ball of your foot, and is a wide band of connective tissue.  X-rays may show calcified deposits and the presence of heel spurs from the repetitive stress and tension on your heel, though spurs are often asymptomatic (non-painful).

Generally speaking, the pain is at its worst after any prolonged period of rest.  So, that first step in the morning may bring tears to your eyes, depending on how advanced the condition is.  This is because on a cellular level there is micro-tearing taking place.  I have even seen a patient or two with such an advanced condition that they presented with visible scar tissue deposits in the fascia.  After a little walking though, the pain should decrease quite a bit as the fascia gets stretched out.

Those most prone to plantar fasciitis are on opposite sides of the spectrum, the very active and the sedentary.  Specifically, those who develop the condition most, per the Mayo Clinic website below, are:  Between the ages of 40-60, women greater than men, poor foot mechanics (flat-footed or very high arch), sports or activities with excessive stress on your heels, excessive weight gain, jobs that require you to be on your feet constantly, and poor fitting shoes.  This is a condition that tends to affect "weekend warriors" who have a desk job throughout the week and then engage in a high level activity over the weekend, like basketball or softball.  Even high level athletes can develop this from over-training or accelerating their conditioning too rapidly.

Rehab will consist of reducing stress to the plantar fascia, meaning runners will need to cross train in decreased weight bearing like aquatics or biking.  Stretching of the calf is crucial, as that decreases stress on your achilles tendon, which in turn takes tension off your heel.  Taping may be beneficial for athletes in competition.  Ultrasound and iontophoresis are physical therapy modalities that can decrease pain and inflammation.  Orthotics, which are inserts for your shoes, generally help decrease impact on your heels, give added support for your arch and decrease your pain with walking.  There is some controversy in the medical field on the benefits of custom made (and expensive) othotics versus your typical off the shelf type you can purchase at a store.  There are many other devices that you can purchase to keep your feet in proper position at night, like night splints, so that those first steps aren't as painful.  And, as always with any inflammatory condition, ice, elevation, and anti-inflammatory meds will generally help to relieve symptoms.

Recovery can take as long as two years, but average recovery time is six to nine months, depending on how soon the condition is addressed.  It is very important that once symptoms are under control, you slowly progress with exercise and activity levels, as the chance of recurrence can be high.  Chronic cases may warrant an injection of a corticosteroid to decrease inflammation, and severe cases may require surgery.

For more info and pictures via Wikipedia: 

Info via the Mayo Clinic website:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/plantar-fasciitis/DS00508

An academic article questioning the benefits of custom orthotics vs off the shelf pre-fab orthotics:  http://www.podiatrytoday.com/article/3589

For a sports rehab look at plantar fasciitis:  http://www.sportsinjuryclinic.net/cybertherapist/front/foot/plantarfaciitis.htm
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