What is a Plantar Fascia Tear?

14 Feb

pau gasol plantar fascia rupture

On February 5, Los Angeles Lakers forward Pau Gasol was defending Brooklyn’s Brook Lopez when he came down on the Nets’ player’s foot. Gasol heard a “pop” in his foot and fell to the floor. He tried to stay in the game, but he ultimately exited the locker room on crutches.

The source of his foot pain? A torn (ruptured) plantar fascia, sidelining him for 6-8 weeks.

The plantar fascia is a thick ligament which extends from the heel to the ball of the foot. Its purpose is to stabilize the arch and resist arch collapse.

Tearing the plantar fascia is an extremely painful and uncommon injury. But last week, Gasol said he was playing through a pain level of eight out of 10 in his right foot. “I’ve been dealing with it for a couple months now,” Gasol said. “But I never felt anything like I did tonight.” And therein lies the most likely reason for Gasol’s more serious injury – playing with pain. He already had a sore and irritated plantar fascia, and when put under the additional strain of jumping and landing, the ligament tore. Most often the rupture occurs where the ligament attaches to the heel bone.

Athletes frequently experience plantar fasciitis, a common overuse injury that appears as heel pain or arch pain. As a matter of course, trainers inject the ligament with cortisone to kill the pain and get the player back in the game. Unfortunately this can contribute to the more traumatic and serious tearing injury.

But a torn plantar fascia is not only an athletic injury – arch problems, sudden weight gain, and obesity can contribute to the injury, too.

Video of Pau Gasol’s injury:

How do you know if you have a torn plantar fascia?

  • Pain in the heel or arch, active or resting
  • Possible swelling or bruising in the bottom of the foot
  • Tender spot or lump between the arch and heel
  • You heard or felt a “pop” in the arch when the pain started
  • Your arch feel like it’s collapsing

Treatment for a plantar fascia tear

A ruptured plantar fascia will most likely not get better on its own, and will be accompanied by excruciating pain, so medical attention is strongly advised. Surgery is usually not necessary, but your podiatrist will immobilize your foot with a cast or a walking boot and give you a pair of crutches to keep weight off the injured foot. Once the ligament heals, physical therapy will be prescribed and possibly custom orthotics to prevent re-occurrence of the tear.

In other injuries of the ligaments, steroids and cortisone are normally administered to decrease pain and inflammation. But in the case of a plantar fascia rupture, your podiatrist may avoid this treatment, as these medicines might actually delay healing.  Over the counter pain relievers will be the most likely route to reduce pain. PRP injections however, may be recommended to speed the healing process.

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