Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy for Plantar Fasciitis

The plantar fascia is a thick rope of tissue that attaches your toes to your heel bone. Heel pain that occurs or worsens when you wake up in the morning could indicate inflammation of this tissue, a condition known as plantar fasciitis. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this issue affects more than 2 million people in the United States, and 10% of individuals will experience it at some point.

While the pain associated with plantar fasciitis often resolves with over-the-counter pain medication, rest, and physical therapy, your doctor may also recommend extracorporeal shockwave therapy, an effective treatment for this common condition. In this article, you can explore the answers to frequently asked questions about shockwave therapy if you need relief from plantar fasciitis pain.

What Is Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy?

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy, or extracorporeal pulse activation technology, is a noninvasive outpatient treatment for plantar fasciosis, a chronic form of the classic plantar fasciitis. This treatment is used not for acute issues, but rather when conditions we treat at our office turn into a chronic situation. This treatment targets the inflamed tissue band with high-level acoustic sound waves. This triggers the body’s immune system to facilitate healing by:

  • Making the cells more permeable. 
  • Breaking down hardened tissue in the affected area.
  • Encouraging the growth of new blood vessels to deliver healing nutrients.

Shockwave therapy also helps alleviate the pain of plantar fasciosis and other chronic conditions by hyperstimulating the nerve endings of the tissue. This therapy reduces symptoms so patients can avoid invasive surgical treatments. Often,  patients experience pain relief quickly after a shockwave session, but typically, 3 or 4 sessions are needed and some time to allow the tissue to regenerate and repair, so immediate repair is not typical, but with the proper time frame and treatment regimen this is a great conservative option. The treatment does not require anesthesia or result in pain or scarring.

What Should I Expect During Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy?

After removing your shoes and socks, our doctors and staff will use ultrasound gel to deliver the ultrasound shock waves to the affected area using a high-powered focused machine.

Each shockwave therapy session takes about 20 – 30  minutes if we are treating both feet. You may drive yourself home, and you can return to normal activities immediately; however, part of the treatment plan must include some other treatments for the plantar fasciosis, like heating, calf stretching, and cross-training with non-impact activities, in order for the tissue to heal appropriately. Depending on the severity of the inflammation, you may need three to five treatment sessions to experience optimal results. You may have some minor discomfort, numbness, and swelling, but, generally, there is no bruising after the procedure. 

Who’s a Candidate for Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy?

You may consider extracorporeal shockwave therapy if you’ve tried other treatments for plantar fasciosis without success. This therapy is safe and effective for most people.

 Please come in to see our doctors at Gurnee Podiatry & Sports Medicine Assoc. if you have heel pain that doesn’t resolve with home treatment. We will thoroughly evaluate your condition and determine the appropriate treatment protocol. This may involve simple acute care treatments; however, if these treatments don’t work, then we can determine if extracorporeal shockwave therapy is right for you.

What Are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?

The symptoms of plantar fasciitis arise from injury or overuse of the plantar fascia. Your doctor may suspect this condition if you have heel pain that you’d describe as burning, searing, or stabbing. Some people also describe an aching, dull foot pain. It usually gets worse gradually over time, and symptoms also exacerbate after a day of activity or when you’re not wearing supportive shoes. You might notice it most when you wake up in the morning or place pressure on the foot, such as if you’re running or jumping.

Plantar fasciitis most often affects people ages 40 to 60. Additionally, you have a higher risk of developing this condition if you’re an athlete in a sport that puts significant stress on the foot with repetitive, high-impact movements such as jumping or running; if you’re overweight or obese; if you stand most of the time at work; or if you have flat feet or a high arch. Most of the time, plantar fasciitis symptoms only affect one foot at a time, but it’s also possible to develop this issue in both feet simultaneously.

Can I Prevent Plantar Fasciitis?

You can take steps to avoid developing plantar fasciitis, especially if you’re at higher risk for this condition. Some of the actions to take include:

  • Getting new running or walking sneakers after 500 miles or one year, whichever comes first.
  • Wearing supportive shoes that fit you correctly. Gym shoes should be one size larger than dress shoes, using a thumb width at the end of the toe to the end of the shoe to measure correct sizing.
  • Resting your feet after performing vigorous physical activity.
  • Stretching your calf muscles before sports and exercise.

What Other Treatments Are Available for Plantar Fasciitis and Plantar Fasciosis?

When treating chronic conditions, there are treatments that are done differently than if you have acute plantar fasciitis. Treatment for acute Plantar Fasciitis may include stretching, NSAIDs, steroid injections, activity modification, orthotics, and more. While treatment for chronic Plantar Fasciosis includes:

  • Heating the affected area to increase blood flow.
  • Lifestyle changes such as avoiding ballistic or impact activities and avoiding strenuous exercise until your symptoms resolve.
  • A walking boot, crutches, or night splint to immobilize the foot while the plantar fascia heals.
  • Orthotic arch supports worn in the shoes.
  • Physical therapy to reduce pain and improve the flexibility and strength of the surrounding muscles.
  • Stretching exercises that focus on the fascia and Achilles tendon.
  •  Prolotherapy is an ultrasound-guided needly therapy used to create an inflammation state that helps repair damaged tissue. This treatment can be an alternative to the shock wave treatments.

In reality, plantar fasciitis, when acute, can take a few months to cure for a patient. Whereas when the condition is chronic, it can take much longer. Shockwave therapy especially will take some time to allow the fascia or other tissue to completely repair and replace with new collagen, so patients have to be patient.  As mentioned earlier, quick, swift treatments when the condition is acute is the optimal time to treat; do not wait. 

Find Symptom Relief From Plantar Fasciitis

Gurnee Podiatry and Sports Medicine Association can provide specialized care for heel pain, including extracorporeal shockwave therapy for plantar fasciosis. We have convenient locations located in Park City and Chicago. Contact our office today if you’re curious about whether this effective, noninvasive treatment can help get you back to your regular activities without surgery.