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Fasciitis Treatment: A Physios Guide to Fixing Heel Pain

December 15, 2017 • By

Do your heels hurt from a lot of walking or running? Or have you been told that you have plantar fasciitis or a heel spur? Well, you are certainly not alone!

We have developed this comprehensive guide to give you the what, why and how to help fix plantar fasciitis.

What does the plantar fascia do

fasciitis and heel pain treatmentThe plantar fascia is a strong band of connective tissue that starts at the bottom of your heel and runs along the bottom of the foot, attaching into the toes.Think of it like a big strong rope that supports your foot and helps you move.

It is important for:

  • Maintaining your arch when walking and running
  • Stabilises your arch: As you push off your big toe, the fascia is put on more stretch, which lifts up the arch into a more stable position so you can propel yourself forward. This is called the windlass mechanism. You can see in the diagram below how when the big toe is pushed up, that pulls on and tightens the fascia, lifting the arch up. For more info on the windlass mechanism, you can see this previous post.

plantar fasciitis treatment exercises

What is plantar fasciitis

In a nutshell: It is a thickening of the plantar fascia due to overload.

A massive 4% of the population over 20 have plantar fasciitis and it is a massive cause of loss of function. It is essentially an overload injury where multiple factors combine to increase the load/pull on the fascia. This overload combined with not enough time for the tissue adapt leads to mal-adaption.

Essentially, it adapts wrong and ends up getting thicker and dysfunctional.

Other common names of Plantar Fasciitis

  • Plantar fasciopathy or fasciosis
  • Plantar heel pain

Is fasciitis inflammatory?

No. There has been shown to be some inflammation early on in the pathology but on the whole, it is not an inflammatory injury after the first 1-2 weeks.

This is why over the last ten years, a lot of the medical profession and research down around this condition have been leaning towards calling in plantar fasciopathy, not fasciitis. For now though and the purpose of this article, we will continue to call it fasciitis for continuity. (1)

Fasciitis symptoms

  • Pain upon waking and taking your first few steps –This startup pain” is because your plantar fascia and calves have been in a contracted, shortened position all night.
  • Sharp stab or a dull ache in your arch or at the heel.
  • Pain after long period sitting.
  • Pain that eases gradually in a walk or run as it warms up

Risk factors for Plantar Fasciitis

  • Limited ankle or big toe range of motion
  • High body mass index/Overweight
  • Older age,
  • Prolonged standing.

The best Plantar Fasciitis Treatment

Nplantar fasciitis treatmentow that you know the what, why and how of how fasciitis can happen, we can move on to the main thing. How you can help your plantar fasciitis get better, faster.

These are the main things that need to covered in a comprehensive treatment of plantar fasciitis

  1. De-load the fascia through alteration of exercise or load
  2. Support the foot and fascia
  3. Improve strength of the calf muscles for better control and shock absorption
  4. Reduce the pull on the plantar fascia by
    1. Improving flexibility in the calf and plantar fascia
    2. Improving ankle dorsiflexion range if needed
  5. And last but importantly, we gradually load the plantar fascia to re-align the fibres and get rid of the thickening

Here are those steps laid out in far more detail:

1. Reduce load

Plantar fasciitis happens from the repeated load on the plantar fascia without enough recovery. So, simply, to help give it a chance to recover, we need to reduce the weight bearing load to a degree. It isn’t about stopping completely, that is barely ever needed.

For Plantar Fasciitis, it is all about the relative rest

This means resting the fascia, compared to what it has been doing and what overloaded it. For example, if you were running 5 or 6 days a week, you could cut that down to 3 times per week, every second day. There isn’t a set exact guide for this but the big thing is to listen to your body. If you have more morning pain the next day then ease off a bit more and don’t do quite as much.

Not satisfied with decreasing your running or walking or too sore to keep going? Then on the rest days or as an alternative, try getting on a bike or rowing machine and get your exercise in another way.

2. Support the foot

Helping support under the plantar fascia and encouraging good foot motion can be great for relieving pain when you have plantar fasciitis. There are a few options to help here including:

  • Orthotics – These help support the medial arch and cushion the heel and are recommended for up to 1 year
  • Gel heel pads – Great to help reduce impact and give a soft surface for your heel
  • Fasciitis compression sleeves – These great socks can mimick arch taping really well and we have found they can give patients great relief

3. Improve strength

Studies have shown that people with plantar fasciitis have calf weakness, as well as ankle and calf tension2. This can increase load and contribute to fasciitis as the calf is then absorbing less impact and there is less control.

Strengthening the calf is important but often when the plantar fasciitis is irritated, it can be too sore to do. Never fear though, we have provided a couple of different levels of strengthening for you to work at daily:

level 1: Theraband Calf Strengthening

As per the picture below, push your foot down again a resistance band (TheraBand for example) and then control back up.

Repeat this for 3 sets of 12 repetitions and adjust the tension of the band to make it easier or harder

calf stengthening for plantar fasciitis

Level 2: Heel raises

Starting on two feet, and holding onto a wall if needed for support, raise up onto your forefoot as shown and then slowly control back down over three seconds.

Do this for 3 sets of 12 repetitions and when that is easy, start doing them on one leg at a time.

Note, if there is more than a little pain then start with level 1.

Calf raise, calf exercise, heel raise

4. Reduce the pull

Both the calf and the plantar fascia attach onto the heel and some fibres of the Achilles tendon actually wrap around and attach to the plantar fascia. So it makes sense that any tension in the calf, plantar fascia or ankle can increase the pull at the heel and worsen fasciitis.

Here is a quick test t see if you have enough ankle range:


easy test to measure your ankle range

If you can’t get your knee touching the wall when your foot is 10cm (4 inches) without your heel coming off the ground then you have some work to do! Here are the top three exercises to regain ankle range and reduce plantar fascia and calf tension:

1. Ankle mobilisation

Improve the dorsiflexion range in your ankle if you failed the ankle range test above. See the video demo below for an easy ankle self-mobilisation at home. Alternatively, if you don’t have a band (you can get one here if needed), you can lunge your knee back and forth towards the wall for about 3 sets of 20 reps.

2. Calf stretch: Hang one heel off a step at a time to stretch out your calf and hold this for 30 seconds each side.

calf stretch , soleus, gastroc - self treatment for shin splints

3. Plantar fasciitis deep massage: Use a hard ball or a massage ball to roll out the sole of your foot. Do this between the heel and balls of your foot, NOT under the heel. Do this slowly and firmly for 1-2 minutes to relieve the plantar fasciitis – You can also use a small frozen water bottle!

plantar fasciitis treatment

5. Gradually load

The final aspect of rehab is to load the plantar fascia. The idea behind this and in some recent, successful research is to treat it like a tendon injury. In tendon injuries such as Achilles tendinopathy, the tendon is thickened and the fibres and dysfunctional due to overload. The big part of tendon rehab thing that helps this a lot is putting gradually more load through the tendon. This causes the tendon to adapt and change for the better.

Looking at it like this and treating the plantar fascia like a tendon (even though it technically isn’t) looks to be gaining good results in research and the clinic and is becoming a mainstay or plantar fasciitis rehab over the last few years.

If you want to read further about this, you can check out the main research paper here, with their main conclusion being:

High-load strength training may aid in a quicker reduction in pain and improvements in function

Otherwise, if you don’t want to read a research paper:

This is the main exercise that is used to load and strengthen the plantar fascia to ultimately help fix plantar fasciitis

The high load strengthening exercise is done as per the image below. A small towel is rolled up to raise the toe up (hence, putting the plantar fascia on stretch) while doing a heel raise off a step. Go up and down slowly (count 3 seconds each) and hold at the top for 2 seconds.

This can be started two-legged and progressed to one-legged as it gets easier. You can then add a backpack with something heavy in it to add a little extra load. Keep doing this until you are pain-free.

plantar fasciitis strengthening exercise

Rathleff Et al. 2014

 

Conclusion:

And that’s it – all the information, treatments and tools that help fix plantar fasciitis.

Unload, Support and Gradually strengthen

 


Ankle

The Top Sprained Ankle Treatment | Infographic

December 8, 2017 • By

Because sprained ankles are so common, every second person you talk to will have a different opinion on what is best and what you should do. So, to help you out we looked at the best research and summarized what is REALLY the best sprained ankle treatment so that there is no room for confusion.

Here is our infographic summary:

Ankle sprain treatment

Explanation:

As you can see, almost all research papers that this systematic review looked at, agreed that physical therapy (physiotherapy) should be trialled before surgery. This is relevant for grade 1, 2 and 3 sprained ankles – so even the high-grade tears. Of course, every injury is different so there is always the exception to this but your physio can guide you better with that after a thorough assessment.

What we found interesting was that ankle braces are now being recommended for at least one-year post injury. They have also been shown over this time to effectively lower re-injury rates and should be a g-to sprained ankle treatment. It is also worth noting that certain treatments that are used very commonly such as ultrasound and manual therapy show little benefit – this isn’t to say that they offer no benefit, they just haven’t been proven to give statistically significant improvements – for some people that can really help and we find manual therapy is very effective for the sprains and fractures (when out of cast) that are particularly stiff.

You can check out one of our most popular posts on ankle rehab HERE. It details some great basic rehab exercises to help guide your ankle back to it’s best as this is far more beneficial than just resting the ankle. Resting won’t get your strength back, it won’t get movement back as effectively and can just lead to more dysfunction.

Takeaway point: Active rehab is the key to successful sprained ankle treatment.


Ankle

Do Ankle Braces Prevent a Sprained Ankle? | Research Round-up

December 6, 2017 • By

Given the high frequency of ankle sprains in everyday life and dynamic sports such as basketball and volleyball, we decided to feature some summaries of research papers that show just how effective different sprained ankle treatments are.

Today we have a great infographic summarizing a systematic review (the highest level of evidence)  that helps answer the question of how to how well do ankle braces really help prevent a sprained ankle:

ankle brace for sprained ankle running

 

This study effectively shows that ankle braces – lace-up braces specifically – are incredibly effective in reducing the number of sprains that occur in basketball and this can be translated quite well to assume that it has similar effectiveness to prevent a sprained ankle in other sports as well.

You can check out the abstract to the mentioned study here and if you need an example of a good lace-up ankle brace, here is a good example on Amazon of the DonJoy Ankle Brace


Ankle, Health

Ankle pain, The Best 3 Support Braces

August 2, 2017 • By

Our ankles get little reprieve and time to rest so when we get ankle pain we need a way of looking after them while keeping going. We have outlined the best supports and given a guide so that you can find the perfect support for your ankle pain.

Recent research has proven beyond a doubt what the best thing is for ankle pain and it isn’t what everyone would think. In the past, the need for rehab and strengthening ankles up has been pushed as the most important. But actually, what has been shown to be even more effective in recent research, is wearing an ankle brace.(1

Here is a quick summary of the study from YLM Sports Science

Ankle pain support

Why do braces work so well for ankle pain?

They support you, allowing you to keep moving. That is the key.

Often when we have ankle pain, we aren’t as active, we start walking differently and avoid certain activities. But, with the right support, we avoid the muscle dysfunction and stiffness that comes from this. That is why ankle braces and the most popular item in most physical therapy clinics and that is why you have nothing to lose and everything to gain in getting one for yourself.

We have put together a guide for you below of the different types of ankle support to help you decide on what is best for you:

TypeLevel of supportUsed forLink to example product
Compression sleeveMild support- Ankle pain
- Compression in early stage rehab
- Reduction of swelling
- Mild ankle sprains
- mild instability
Support with strapsModerate support- Ankle pain
- Maintaining warmth
- Moderate support
- Mild instability
- Mild and moderate ankle sprains
Lace-up ankle braceComprehensive ankle support- Moderate and severe (grad 2 and 3) ankle sprains
- Moderate to severe ankle instability
- Dynamic sports

For those of you that don’t have a lot of room in your footwear, there are types of low-cut and low profile ankle braces like THIS Mueller brace that are also a great option.

Further information on ankle pain

For those of you that are information orientated, we have decided to go more in-depth into the many causes of ankle pain, why it can hang around and the many more things that you can do to help it as the more we can do to get rid of ankle pain faster, the better right?

Causes of ankle pain:

  • Tendinopathies: Overload injuries to the tendons around your ankle is common, including peroneal tendons, Achilles tendinopathy and more. Note tendonitis is a common term that is still used a lot but research over the last 10 years has shown that the majority of tendon overuse injuries are not inflammatory after the first 1-2 weeks.
  • Broken ankle: Following ankle fractures and subsequent casting you can be left with stiffness and pain for up to a year. An ankle support can really help with this as well as stretching if you don’t have the full range. You can test your range with an easy test in our past blog post here
  • Arthritis: The top two braces above can help a lot with this as they maintain warmth of the joint
  • Plantar fasciitis

The majority of ankle pain can be helped with decreasing the aggravating activity, supporting the area well and strengthening the ankle back again and there are a lot of great exercises in our past blog posts like THIS one that is great for not just ankle sprains but all sorts of issues down below!

Information on ankle sprains

The most common type of sprained ankle is the lateral ankle sprain (85%), and that is what we are going to discuss and sort out today.

Mechanism of injury: The plain and simple is that a sprained ankle is typically when your foot is forced inward (inversion) and down at the same time (often when changing direction, turning and/or on uneven surfaces). This puts the ligaments under too much stress too fast which causes a tear of one or more of your ankle ligaments.

 

sprained ankle - lateral ligamentsQuick anatomy: The lateral (outer) ankle has 3 ligaments supporting, with the weakest of these (and so most often injured) being the ATFL. The ATFL is the Ligament at the front of the ankle shown here and in most simple sprains, this is the one torn with or without the ligament below it.

Sprained ankle recovery time: The general recovery time is 2-6 weeks (if looked after properly) and keep in mind, even if it feels bad now if you do all the right things you will be one of the 95% who returns to sport and activity within 6 weeks.


Health, running, Thigh

Hamstring Injury and why Biceps Femoris gets a bad rap

June 27, 2016 • By

Hamstring injury happens frequently in running-based sports such as athletics, football and rugby – But over 80% of these occur in the outer hamstring when the leg is swinging through – why is that?

It is often thought that hamstrings are injured from changes in direction, pushing off and explosive movements but in reality, most hamstring injury happens when the leg is swinging through, just before the foot touches down.

Here is a quick few stats and anatomy refresher to ground you:

Hamstring injury

The hamstrings are made up of three muscles

  • The Biceps Femoris, which has two parts to it. The long head which cross’ both the hip and then knee joint and the short head which only crosses one joint
  • Semitendinosus
  • And Semitendinosus at the inner thigh

There is a huge difference between how much each these muscles get injured. The Biceps Femoris long head (BFlonghead) is involved in a huge 80%hamstringirng injuries.(1)

As well as this, most hamstring injuries are thought to happen in late swing phase of running, just before the foot lands. So how does the BFlonghead taking the brunt of injuries and this mechanism of injury link in? Check out the video below first of all to ee how the hamstring works in walking:

 

As you can see in the video, the hamstrings fire into action before, during and after the foot lands. At this point when the knee is extended, the muscle is working while at it’s peak length and at maximal force development working hard eccentrically to slow leg swing down.

Note: An eccentric contraction is where the muscle controls lengthening out, which is far harder on the muscle than a concentric contraction where it contracts to push-off.

Recent studies have shown that the Biceps Femoris is more active, along with the other hamstring muscles when the hip is extending, rather than the knee flexing. The semitendinosus, however, is more active in knee flexion where it works to bend the knee. This means that as well as the BFlonghead working harder with eccentrically slowing the leg down, it is also not often strengthened as well as the other hamstrings because of this.

nordic curls - hamstring rehab and strengthening exerciseA lot of hamstring strengthening is done at the knee (nordic curls, hamstring curls etc) which has been shown to be more the work of the medial hamstrings than Biceps Femoris.

 

 

 

 

Hamstring chair bridges

Credit irunfar.com

So there you have it, the BFlonghead of the hamstrings works harder eccentrically slowing down the momentum of the leg swinging forward and often gets missed in strengthening sessions – Stuck between a rock and a hard place! This gives athletes and health professionals better guidance as to what rehab exercises to add in post injury and also in injury prevention programmes depending on injury, leading to decreasing the nearly 30% re-injury rate.(1)