What is plantar fasciitis?

Published: Wednesday, July 10, 2024
Orthopedic Surgery

Today, we’re diving into a common complaint that many athletes and active individuals face: heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis. Whether you’re a runner, a weekend warrior, or just someone who enjoys staying active, understanding plantar fasciitis can help you manage and prevent this painful issue. Let’s explore what plantar fasciitis is, how it develops, and what you can do about it.

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the plantar fascia – a tough fibrous band that runs along the sole of the foot, attaching to the calcaneus, or the heel bone, and to the base of the toes. Plantar fascia supports the arch of the foot and plays an important role in normal foot mechanic during walking or running.

How does the plantar fascia work?

When you walk, the plantar fascia plays a crucial role in supporting your arch and absorbing shock. As your heel strikes the ground, the plantar fascia stretches slightly to help cushion the impact. When you shift your weight forward and push off with the ball of your foot and toes, the plantar fascia tightens to give your foot stability and strength. This stretching and tightening action helps your foot move smoothly and efficiently with each step. Over time or with excessive use, the plantar fascia can lose some of its elasticity and resilience, becoming irritated and inflamed, even during routine daily activities.

What causes plantar fasciitis?

There are several common causes for plantar fasciitis, including:

  • Overuse or sudden changes in activity level: Suddenly starting activities, like a walking or running program, or participating in repetitive exercises without proper preparation can put added stress on your plantar fascia.
  • The structure or shape of your foot: Flat feet, high arches, or an abnormal walking pattern can put extra stress on the plantar fascia.
  • Wearing ill-fitting shoes: Shoes that lack proper arch support or cushioning can contribute to plantar fasciitis.
  • Carrying too much weight: Extra body weight increases the strain on your feet.

What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?

 The most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is pain coming from the area around the heel and can either be dull and aching or a sudden, sharp pain. This pain commonly increases with time, but can also occur suddenly, like after a sudden movement. Pain is typically worse after returning to activities after prolonged periods of inactivity or first thing in the morning and can feel worse when walking barefoot or wearing shoes with minimal support. Sometimes, the level of discomfort can decrease after warming up or completing activities throughout the day.

Preventing Plantar Fasciitis

Preventing plantar fasciitis involves taking care of your feet and staying attune to your body’s signals. Here are some tips to keep your feet healthy:

Wear Supportive Shoes: Choose shoes with good arch support and cushioning, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet or starting a new fitness activity that my add stress to your arch.

Replace Worn-Out Shoes: Running shoes lose their cushioning over time. According to the Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, you should replace them regularly to ensure adequate support when:

  1. After 300-500 miles of running or walking, 45-60 hours of basketball, aerobic dance or tennis.
  2. Shows signs of unevenness when placed on flat surface.
  3. Display noticeable creasing.

Gradual Increase in Activity: If you’re starting a new exercise routine, increase your activity level gradually to avoid overloading your feet.

Stretch Regularly: Incorporate stretching exercises into your daily routine to keep your plantar fascia and surrounding muscles flexible. Great stretches to try including are: toe stretch, calf stretch, and tennis ball roll along your arch.

Listen to Your Body: If you experience foot pain, don’t ignore it. Take a break and address the issue before it becomes a chronic problem.

How do you treat plantar fasciitis?

Treating plantar fasciitis usually involves a combination of home care, medical treatments, and lifestyle changes. Here are some effective strategies:

Home Care

  1. Rest: Give your feet a break from activities that cause pain. Avoid running, jumping, or prolonged standing until the pain subsides.
  2. Ice: Apply ice to the painful area for 15-20 minutes several times a day to reduce inflammation, this can be done by rolling a frozen water bottle under your foot.
  3. Stretching: Gentle stretching exercises for the plantar fascia, Achilles tendon, and calf muscles can help relieve tension and improve flexibility.
  4. Footwear: Wear shoes with good arch support and cushioning. Avoid walking barefoot on hard surfaces.

Medical Treatments

  1. Physical Therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises to strengthen your foot muscles, improve flexibility, and reduce pain.
  2. Orthotics: Custom or over-the-counter shoe inserts or heel cushion inserts can provide extra support and cushioning for your feet.
  3. Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  4. Corticosteroid Injections: In severe cases, your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections to reduce inflammation and pain.
  5. Surgical Release: In rare cases if it fails multiple months of conservative treatment surgical release can be performed as a last option.

When to See a Doctor

Most cases of plantar fasciitis can be managed with home care and lifestyle changes, but sometimes professional treatment is necessary. See a doctor if:

  • Your pain doesn’t improve after a few weeks of home treatment.
  • The pain is severe or affects your daily activities.
  • You notice swelling or redness in your heel or foot.
  • You have difficulty walking or standing.

To schedule an appointment with an NGPG Orthopedic & Sports Medicine provider click here.