What is plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition of the tissue connecting the heel to the toes. It is usually suffered by people in the age range of 40 to 60 and is a common condition that will affect between 7% to 10% of the population of the United Kingdom at some stage. It is caused by the connective tissue, the plantar fascia, becoming damaged through sudden stress and causes severe pain at the base of the heel. This can be brought on by any number of factors, a tight achillies tendon, sports injury, physical stress on the feet or just simply by daily wear and tear.
At one stage plantar fasciitis was thought to be an inflammatory condition with the tendon becoming inflamed. Because of this the classical treatment has been a corticosteroid injection into the tendon. Over the years research has shown that in fact it is not due to inflammation but due to micro trauma of the tissues where an ineffective blood supply means a very slow healing process and an increased likelihood of repeated damage.
Plantar fasciitis will eventually heal itself but it can take up to a year for this to happen. During this time you need to rest the foot as much as possible. Many people suffer from the condition for many years living with a stabbing pain in the heel which never goes away and is often worse in the morning.
What treatments are available.
When a doctor is treating a patient they should follow the guidance from NICE, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. This is what NICE recommends as a starting point for treatment:
- Rest the foot, avoid standing or walking for long periods.
- Wear shoes with good support and cushioning
- Take an analgeisic (painkiller) such as paracetamol or ibruprofen
- Lose weight if appropriate
- Apply an icepack to the foot if the pain becomes too much
NICE also concludes that these treatments, called ‘conservative measures’, are the first step (excuse the pun) to treating the pain but also recommend other options. They suggest night splints and boots, although they acknowledge these are uncomfortable to wear, surgery, which I often do to release the tension in the tissue, and extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), more of which later.
Other than the basic rest, support and weight loss, let’s look at the other treatments in turn which may provide a benefit.
- Short term benefit
- Potential side effects
Steroid injections have until recently been a very popular treatment for plantar fasciitis. The recent evidence also suggests that these injections provide a short term benefit (NICE states 4 weeks maximum) but not a long lasting effect. They can also have side effects including depigmentation (colour change of the skin) and atrophy of the injection site (indentation of the skin).
Tendons can also be weakened by the injections and plantar fascia ruptures have also been reported. They are also very painful to receive.
Splinting and Orthotics:
- Difficult to use at night
- Moderately successful for some patients
The idea behind splinting is that during the night the plantar fascia tightens. As any sufferer of the condition knows, the most pain from the condition is suffered in the morning when first walking on the foot. Keeping the foot splinted in the same position at night stops the tightening and keeps the plantar fascia ligament and achillies tendon gently stretched. Unfortunately experts agree that all forms of splinting are uncomfortable to wear, sleep is often difficult and many patients give up on this form of treatment so it is rarely successful.
Anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen, Nurofen):
- short term pain relief
- side effects
- not targeted at the problem
This is usually the first line of treatment for the pain of the condition. All pain relieving (analgesic) treatments work by blocking the pain signal to the brain. Drugs such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and morphine do this chemically, blocking chemical mediators that allow the pain signal to pass from nerve to nerve on its way to the brain.
It’s important to note, these drugs are not specific to the site of injury. The body is bathed by the drugs and only a very small portion of the drug that you take actually works on the damaged tissue. On the whole they are very safe but they do have side effects in some patients. Anti inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (neurofen) and aspirin can cause gastritis and stomach ulcers. Very rarely they can cause life threatening bleeding if used for more than a few weeks.
Physiotherapy and Exercise:
- Can produce moderate benefits in many patients
- Recommended by NICE
- Expensive if done by a professional, time consuming
NICE recommend a number of stretching exercises for plantar fasciitis. These can be performed in the morning when getting out of bed to stretch both the achillies heel and the plantar fascia.
Stretching exercies can be done at home by yourself or a physiotherapist and are widely recommended by experts even though NICE themselves state there is a lack of good quality studies on their effectiveness. They are certainly worth a try.
Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy:
- Effective for both pain relief and faster healing
- Recommended by NICE
- Expensive and requiring specialised equipment.
Shockwave therapy is a relatively simple treatment for tendon and tissue disorders. A powerful wave in the form of a set frequency of vibration is directed through the skin to the problem area. The energy released promotes regeneration of the tendons and other soft tissues, reducing the pain at the time for up to four hours after treatment.
While this healing sounds rather magical, it is in fact no different to what surgeons have been doing for many years. A standard operation for tennis elbow, a similar condition to plantar-fasciitis, is to strip away the outer layers of the tendon and burn tiny holes into it, a procedure that generates inflammation and healing by drawing blood to the injury site. Shockwave therapy is a similar process, where vibration is sent to the tendon or tissue to stimulate growth, but without the need for surgery.
How does Heelease work?
Healease works in two ways, to block the pain of plantar fasciitis and to promote the healing of the tissues.
1. Reducing the pain
It blocks the pain using a mechanism called the Gate Theory. This was first discovered in 1965, by Melzack and Walls in their classic Science article “Pain Mechanisms: A New Theory”. The pain signal that runs up to the brain can be blocked by an inhibitory neuron. This inhibitory neuron can be activated by accurately stimulating the vibration sensors in the body. In laymans terms the vibration shockwave scrambles the pain signal to the brain.
This signal which inhibits the pain can take many forms. If you’ve used a TENS machine for pain relief it works in the same way but with an electrical signal. Heelease works with mechanical vibration like a larger shockwave device, providing a frequency of wave of 150Hz, found by researchers to be the ideal frequency for blocking the pain. Patients in trials have seen immediate pain relief which lasts after treatment.
2. Faster healing of the tissues
As with all shockwave machines new blood vessel formation is induced during treatment leading to faster healing. Where patients previously saw little improvement in their condition, with regular use the majority see a daily decrease in their levels of pain and an increase in their mobility.
Box [In the original trials of the device back in 2009, many of my patients loved it so much they were reluctant to give back the trial machines I gave them in case their symptoms returned.]
It is also easy to use at home. The small, battery operated device is painless and effective. Just apply to the point of the pain and tighten the strap around the foot. Press the button to start the treatment and leave it running for around 10 minutes. It’s recommended to do this three times a day for maximum benefit.
Heelease is an easy to use, cheap and effective treatment for the pain of plantar-fasciitis. Compared to other treatments it is safe, side effect free and uses a treatment method for plantar fasciitis recognized by the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, the professional body which decides which treatments are most effective for a condition.
If you’d like to try Heelease you can do so with a guarantee to refund all your money if not completely satisfied so you can try it without any risk. As an added benefit, most people can purchase without the VAT by simply ticking in the box provided.
If you’d like to take up this offer click here to purchase your device.