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Abridged from www.aapsm.org
In most cases, the goal of the athlete is to quickly return to activities to minimize loss of fitness and performance.This will put pressure on the treating practitioner to be more aggressive than treating cases of more sedentary patients.
A survey was conducted by this author of the board members of the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine two years ago to compare treatment protocols for athletes vs. standard population.The following treatment pearls were elicited:
1) Assignment to alternative activity
The athlete must be encouraged to maintain cardiovascular fitness during rest from damaging activities that may delay healing.For the runner, dancer or volleyball player, this means a complete cessation from running and jumping activities until acute symptoms subside.On the other hand, the athlete should be assigned to alternative cardiovascular fitness activities that minimize impact and loading on the plantar fascia including stationary cycling, swimming, upper body weight machines, and low resistance flat-footed stair master machines.
2) Change and modulation of footwear
Footwear analysis is critical for evaluating athletes with subcalcaneal pain.The footwear may be a contributory factor and can be utilized as a powerful treatment modality.Athletesshould be placed into shoes that have a minimal 1″ heel height with a strong stable midfoot shank and relative uninhibited forefoot flexibility.The American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine has a list of recommended footwear for the athlete that can be obtained on their web site:www.aapsm.org.It is well recognized that recent trends in athletic footwear have actually predisposed to greater frequency of plantar fascitis due to the fact that athletic shoes have weaker midsoles with newer designs.The popular “two-piece” outsoles with an exposed midsole cause a hinge effect across the midfoot placing excessive strain on the plantar fascia in the running and jumping athlete.These shoes must be eliminated if the injured athlete is wearing them.Careful attention must be paid to having the athlete keep shoes on in the house and during all standing and walking activities.Barefoot and sandal-wearing activities are prohibited.
3) Home therapy
Athletes are accustomed to designing and participating in their own training programs.They are willing participants in their own treatment programs. Heel cord stretching is central to the rehabilitation process to decrease load on the plantar fascia and encourage healing.The use of plantar fascia night splints has been well proven to be a treatment adjunct for plantar fascitis by placing the heel cord and the plantar fascia on a sustained static stretch during sleeping hours while preventing the normal contractures that occur in the relaxed foot position during sleep.Having the athlete roll or massage their foot on a golf ball or tennis ball is helpful to improve blood flow and break down adhesions in the injury site.
4) Custom foot orthoses
Intervention with semi-rigid custom foot orthoses has been well proven in many prospective and retrospective studies showing successful outcomes in patients with plantar fascitis.In the athlete, the use of foot orthoses should be considered earlier than in the average sedentary patient because of the fact that the athlete will be subjecting their feet to greater stresses during treatment and certainly after return to activity.Athletic footwear is more amenable to semi-rigid and rigid orthotic therapy than are casual shoes worn by sedentary patients.Sports podiatrists are more likely to employ arch taping procedures as a precursor to or adjunct to orthotic therapy.Athletes respond very favorably to the immediate intervention and relief obtained by expertly applied arch taping procedures.
5) Physical therapy
Athletes are amenable to referral for physical therapy because they are willing to invest the extra time to expedite recovery.Many athletes are used to going to the training room for hands on rehabilitation.Athletes appreciate a partnership between the sports podiatrist and the physical rehabilitation specialist.
6) Anti-inflammatory medication
Sports podiatrists should be cautioned against over-aggressive use of anti-inflammatories in treating the athlete.While it is tempting to utilize corticosteroid injections to expedite healing, athletes are often skeptical of receiving this treatment and are certainly at greater risk for sequela of over-ambitious use of steroid injections.There are reports in the literature of athletes undergoing spontaneous rupture of the plantar fascia after even single injections of their plantar fascia with corticosteroid.The conservative, biomechanical interventions outlined above should be implemented before considering injection therapy.