If you believe you have plantar fasciitis, is ultrasound treatment a good idea?
It’s helpful to first consider the basic math on plantar fasciitis or heel pain: typically, 85 percent of all patients will recover in a few weeks (if not less) from not running and utilizing the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation method). For that 85 percent who wants to ramp up their recovery, other options exist. Most of them are profiled on the ‘Proven Treatments’ and ‘Home Remedies’ tabs of our website.
However, there is a 15 percent category that we’ll call ‘problem plantar fasciitis patients.’ These patients tend to take a lot longer to heal, and the healing may be incomplete or erratic. If you’re in this category, you probably need something more advanced than ideas around walking boots and hot/cold therapies.
Pros of Ultrasound Treatment
Advanced Medical Imaging in Lincoln, Nebraska did a study with 65 ‘problem’ plantar fasciitis patients, using this methodology:
During the ultrasound therapy, doctors guided a hollow needle tip into an area of “problem” tissue by means of ultrasound guidance. Once in position, the tip targeted a combination of high frequency/low amplitude sound to the damaged foot region. That broke up the pain-generating tissue, which was then extracted out of the foot.
The treatment took about 90 seconds, and overall, the 65 patients showed a 90 percent improvement in their foot pain on average. The improvements were still consistent six months later (the study was done between 2013 and 2014, but reported out in 2015).
So your pros here are:
- Relatively easy
- High rate of recovery
- Recovery seems to be consistent
Cons of Ultrasound Therapy for Plantar Fasciitis
The Advanced Medical Imaging study was just one study, of course. Here’s how Dr. Howard Luks, the chief of sports medicine at Westchester Medical Center, explained the overall context:
“But this idea,” Luks added, “has been on the radar for a while. At a certain point it seemed to be coming into favor, and some offices even bought equipment to be able to offer it to patients. But then it fell out of favor, as some studies showed that it had moderate benefit, while others showed it had no benefit whatsoever.
So, other studies exist showing little to no benefit of ultrasound therapy for heel and foot pain. There are other concerns, too:
- Potentially invasive: If you scroll back up, you’ll see the phrase ‘hollow needle tip.’ That may not bother everyone, but it likely bothers a certain fraction of potential foot pain patients.
- Cost: Getting this done at a medical facility can be costly; although there are cheaper options online, there’s a concern about how reputable they are. Unless you’re a truly avid runner and want to hit the trails again immediately, a rest/ice/sock changes option might be more valuable to your bank account.
- Lesser options might be more impactful: targeted and form-appropriate stretching probably has the highest value of any treatment option for plantar fasciitis sufferers.
If you’ve been fighting plantar fasciitis pain for a long time, and easy remedies like stretching and orthotic inserts haven’t been effective, you may want to ask your doctor if ultrasound treatment might be the solution you’re looking for.