One of the most common foot woes is plantar fasciitis — inflammation of the tough, fibrous band of tissue (fascia) in the arch that connects the heel bone to the base of your toes. It can make walking on the affected foot uncomfortable and often difficult. According to a survey of the condition published in American Family Physician, about a million people a year develop symptoms of plantar fasciitis. The majority end up in so much pain they seek medical care.
Various therapies — including stretching exercises, pain medication, and even surgery can help — but the condition is hard to treat effectively in many people. However, a new high tech treatment could provide relief, thanks to a quick zap of ultrasonic energy.
Research presented at the Society of Interventional Radiology's annual meeting held recently in Atlanta revealed how image-guided technology can direct intensified ultrasound energy to penetrate, emulsify, and remove damaged fasciitis tissue. The results? According to the research team from Advanced Medical Imaging in Lincoln, Nebraska, the tissue causing the pain is permanently gone, healthy tissue regrows in its place, and normal foot function is soon restored.
"Plantar fasciitis is so ubiquitous and such a difficult condition to live with, and yet patients have been limited in their treatment options," said interventional radiologist Rahul Razdan, who presented the study. "While standard treatments such as pain medication and physical therapy can offer some relief, there have been no permanent answers. Consequently, safe and effective definitive treatments are highly desirable.”
Razdan and colleagues tested their new approach on 100 patients with chronic plantar fasciitis affecting their daily lives that had not been helped by other therapies. Two weeks after their painful heels were zapped with the ultrasound treatment, over 90 percent of the research subjects said their foot condition was improved and their pain relief was maintained at six months. In addition, no treatment-related complications were reported.
"It is important for patients suffering from chronic plantar fasciitis to know that they have treatment options," said Razdan. "We have patients who are in so much pain they can't even play with their kids or take their dog for a walk. This ultrasonic treatment can give patients their lives back and let them enjoy their lives.”
People who are overweight and worked at a job that involves a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces are at increased risk for plantar fasciitis. Running for exercise (especially if tight calf muscles restrict flexing your ankles) and having flat feet and high arches also up the odds of the condition, according to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (AOFAS).
How do you know if you have plantar fasciitis? The AOFAS notes that for many people, the condition starts with a surprise one morning when they get out of bed, take a few steps, and find the heel on one foot hurts as if deeply bruised. What at first may seem like mild pain at the heel bone typically gets worse, especially after exercising, sitting, or sleeping.
It’s important to see your doctor if you have symptoms of plantar fasciitis. If left untreated, it can become chronic and prevent you from exercising. Constantly limping on one foot to compensate for the pain can lead to additional foot, knee, hip, and back problems, too.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website offers information on treatments and self-care measures, including stretching exercises than can help relieve plantar fasciitis pain.
March 20, 2015
Christopher Nystuen, MD, MBA