Albert Pujols of the Los Angeles Angels is currently one of the best baseball players in the MLB. Pujols has been known to be a tough competitor that has continued to play through pain and injuries for various years. Pujols has been dealing with a nagging pain from a specific condition known as Plantar Fasciitis for almost a decade. However, just recently, Pujols could no longer push through the pain of his Plantar Fasciitis after experiencing a partial tear to his Plantar Fascia during the Friday night game against the Oakland A’s. The recent sport headlines explain that Pujols has been put on the disabled list due to the partial tear in the plantar fascia of his left foot, but you may be wondering, “what is this injury?” or “what does this mean for his future?”.
Well, I will leave the headlines for the sport networks, but Plantar Fascia and foot related injuries are our specialty, so I wanted to answer these questions for you.
What is the Plantar Fascia?
Plantar Fascia is made up of long, thick fibrous bands of connective tissue that originate on the plantar surface of the calcaneus and run along the bottom surface of the foot to their insertion points near the toes. Your plantar fascia has many important functions, such as supporting your arches and absorbing shock from the forces of impact as you stand, walk or run. If you are having trouble visualizing what this looks like, then here is an analogy; Think of the structure of a Bow used to shoot an arrow. The bow has a curved, semi-rigid structure (bones of the foot), which are connected end-to-end by hundreds of sturdy fibers (Plantar Fascia). If you were to place the fibers of the bow on the ground with the curved, semi-rigid part directly above it and were to push downward on the Bow then you would have a rough simulation of the interactions occurring between your plantar fascia and the bones of your foot during weight bearing actions.
What could have aggravated his plantar fascia and caused his injury?
Pujols has been dealing with a long term pain caused by Plantar Fasciitis, which is a common condition that affects 10% of the U.S. population over our lifetime and is commonly seen in athletes or people who are overweight. Plantar Fasciitis is the pain along the bottom of the foot associated with inflammation of the plantar fascia as a result of repeated strain and small tears to the ligament, which supports the arch. The condition can be caused by a variety of factors including, Overuse of plantar fascia, Long periods of weight bearing, Excessive pronation and Tight calf muscles. In Pujols’ case, he has been dealing with the condition since 2004 and was receiving constant, noninvasive treatments to manage his pain in order to keep his feet functional at an elite level. As Pujols continued to play, it is likely that the inflammation of his plantar Fasciitis progressively became Plantar Fasciosis, which is a chronic degeneration and tearing of the plantar fascia. Therefore, the plantar fascia in Pujols left foot must have reached its limit and partially tore as he was running in Friday’s game.
What are the treatment options for Pujols?
If you are to catch plantar Fasciitis in its early stages then simple treatments, such as resting, icing, stretching and a steroid injection can be used to relieve the pain. However, if the pain is severe then you may need a more advanced program. In certain cases, the plantar fascia is lengthened or partially released as needed. In Pujols’ case, he basically performed his own surgery by partially tearing the tight plantar fascia that was causing him pain, so he will most likely not need any further surgery. Now that his plantar fascia is partially torn, he will need to take it easy and work on rehabilitating his foot as the surrounding tissues attach to the injured tissue and help the healing process.
I had the fortunate experience to work with several professional athletes during my Fellowship in Chicago with the Weil Foot and Ankle Institute. We were the team podiatrists for the Chicago White Sox and consulted for the other professional Chicago teams like the Chicago Bears. Plantar fascia issues were among the most common chronic issues affecting professional players.
In my experience, I’ve found that Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy combined with specialty injections such as Platelet-Rich Plasma, combined with rest from sport can foster much quicker and advanced healing. There is also a minimally invasive surgical option that can work effectively for these patients if the need ultimately arises.
What is the outlook for Pujols condition?
The recovery time for Pujols’ condition typically takes 6-8 weeks, but it is in his best interest to take the rest of the season off in order to fully rehabilitate his foot so he can be 100% healthy in 2014. Pujols’ injury may have ended his 2013 season, but his fans should not be worried because his persistent, competitive nature is reassurance that he will be back in 2014, as the healthy baseball all-star that he is determined to be.