Plantar Fasciitis and Stem Cell Therapy: Hope for Sufferers
Every year, over 3 million Americans are diagnosed with a painful foot condition that limits their mobility and impacts their quality of life. Plantar fasciitis is a very common condition, and it is often treatable, although serious cases may eventually require surgical intervention.
What Is Planta Fasciitis?
According to the Mayo Clinic, plantar fasciitis is
one of the most common causes of heel pain. It involves inflammation of a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of your foot and connects your heel bone to your toes. Plantar fasciitis common causes stabbing pain that usually occurs with your first steps in the morning. As you get up and move, the pain normally decreases, but it might return after long periods of standing or when you stand up after sitting.
What Are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?
The most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is a stabbing pain in the heel of the foot. It usually occurs first thing in the day after you’ve been off your feet for many hours. However, it can recur throughout the day. In addition, sufferers will find that the pain does not get worse during exercise, but is often worse afterward, particularly for runners, who are very prone to the condition.
Who Is at Risk for Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is more common in women, and more common in those who spend a great deal of time on their feet, whether that’s running, walking, or working. Other risk factors include weight, with obesity being a leading cause, and age, with those who are 40 or over being at greater risk. Patients who wear high-heel shoes or shoes with thin soles often suffer from plantar fasciitis.
How Is Plantar Fasciitis Diagnosed?
In most cases, plantar fasciitis is self-diagnosed. However, it may need medical diagnosis, as a doctor might want to rule out fractures, arthritis, and other possible causes of heel pain. To do this, x-rays can be taken, or an MRI may be ordered.
What Are the Conventional Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis?
There are several conventional treatments used for plantar fasciitis. Braces and supports are commonly used to treat some situations. For some, ice and rest may be all that is necessary. However, some patients may require an injection of steroids or physical therapy.
Other patients may benefit from extracorporeal shock wave therapy (sound wave therapy), and very serious conditions that do not respond to other treatments will require surgery. Surgical intervention for plantar fasciitis is only done if you have been in pain for six to 12 months and other treatment methods have failed. In this process, the surgeon will detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone to reduce tension and alleviate pain. However, it also weakens your foot’s arch and may reduce some foot function, as well.
What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are the body’s healing mechanism. They are also the original type of cell in the body. Over time, they differentiate into organ, skin, bone, connective tissue, and even brain cells. However, they continue to function as the healing factor in the body throughout your life, providing regenerative capabilities throughout the body.
In addition to healing, stem cells have also been shown to alleviate inflammation and can even regenerate damaged tissue. Since inflammation is the underlying cause of discomfort and lost mobility for patients with plantar fasciitis, it is understandable that this therapy is being researched as a treatment option.
What Can Stem Cell Therapy Do for Plantar Fasciitis?
Stem cell therapy is currently being investigated for use in a very broad range of diseases and medical conditions, including plantar fasciitis. Several studies have been conducted using stem cells and platelet-rich plasma (PRP) instead of steroids. One study found that
limited evidence supports the conclusion that PRP is superior to steroid treatment for long-term pain relief
in patients dealing with plantar fasciitis.
While some studies have focused on direct injection in the affected area, an emerging process is to use a general infusion of stem cells into the blood, instead. Once in the body, the stem cells migrate to the lungs, where they multiply. Once in higher numbers, they migrate to other sites throughout the body where healing and regeneration are needed, including the foot, where they can address and reduce the inflammation causing pain.
How Different Types of Stem Cells Operate
Patients interested in using stem cell therapy to treat plantar fasciitis should understand the two types of stem cells in use today. Autologous stem cells are used. These are harvested from the patient’s own body, usually from fat tissue or bone marrow. Because they belong to the patient, they are old and less energetic. They have also accumulated significant mutations and damage over time. Because of those mutations, they may trigger an autoimmune response in the patient when reintroduced into the system.
Allogeneic stem cells, on the other hand, are harvested from umbilical cord blood and tissue, which means that the cells are very young and very energetic. They also carry no mutations, and because of their youth, they offer decades of full performance. Finally, allogeneic stem cells are immune naïve, meaning that they are invisible to the body’s immune system and should not trigger an adverse reaction.
Ultimately, stem cell therapy holds a great deal of promise for those struggling with plantar fasciitis that does not respond to conventional treatments, and who do not or cannot go through surgery. However, at the time of this writing, there are no FDA-approved stem cell treatments available. Any such treatment should be considered experimental only.
Patients are also urged to seek out a physician who not only has significant experience with stem cell therapy but who also understands the importance of using allogeneic stem cells, rather than autologous stem cells.