Heel pain: to jab or not to jab?

Plantar fascitis a real pain in the heel

Around the States
OUCH: Corticosteroid injections versus orthotics.

OUCH: Corticosteroid injections versus orthotics.

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Could simple shoe inserts be the key to stamping out plantar fascitis?

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IT'S a downright pain in the heel that affects one in 10 people aged over 50.

Plantar fascitis: unless you have it or someone you know has it, you probably haven't heard about it.

But ask anyone who has had a run-in with it and they will tell you the pain is terrible - and in many cases life-changing. It can be season-ending for elite athletes, and no one is immune.

Now new La Trobe University research has found that cheaper orthotics might prevent the need for steroid injections.

The plantar fascia is a thick band of fibrous tissue that connects the bottom of the heel to the forefoot.

"This tissue plays an important role during gait, and when damaged can cause intense pain and limit function," said lead researcher Glen Whittaker, who is associate lecturer in podiatry at La Trobe.

Simple orthotics can offer relief to plantar fascitis sufferers.

Simple orthotics can offer relief to plantar fascitis sufferers.

In a bid to optimise plantar fascia pain management, the researchers compared the effectiveness of pre-fabricated orthotics and corticosteroid injections in 103 people aged 21-72 with the condition.

"The surprising winner in the long term was the cheaper, less invasive option - orthotic shoe inserts," Mr Whittaker said.

"While corticosteroid injections were more effective during the initial stages of treatment, participants found they had better long-term pain relief following 12 weeks of rehabilitation with appropriately contoured foot orthotics."

"Up until now we've been unsure which treatment is more effective, and patients often view a steroid injection as a treatment that will 'cure' them of the pain.

"This trial challenges that belief."

The research was recently published in the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.

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