What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar Fasciitis is the clinical name for a common type of pain in the heel area of the foot. When the fascia (ligament band) that runs along the sole of your foot, from the heel to the toes, becomes inflamed by an injury or from overuse, it can result in pain that can disrupt your daily routine. Without treatment, the condition often worsens. The pain caused by plantar fasciitis can cause you to over-compensate when walking (such as causing a limp or weight shift), in an attempt to avoid the pain. This over-compensation places undue stress on other muscles and ligaments in the hips, legs, knees, and ankles. What starts out as a simple case of heel pain can evolve into pain experienced in other joints over time.
Who is at Risk of Developing Plantar Fasciitis?
While anyone can be diagnosed with plantar fasciitis at some point in their lives, the risks are higher for people that fall into any of the following categories:
- Overweight individuals
- Individuals with tight calf muscles
- Runners and long distance walkers
- Individuals with extremely flat feet
- Individuals with unusually high arches
- Individuals with limited ankle flexibility or motion
- Individuals in professions that require prolonged standing or walking
Effective Heel Pain Treatment Methods
If you experience heel pain or if you have been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, there are several ways you can obtain relief from the pain. The following methods have been shown to provide measurable relief for most people that have heel pain.
1. R.I.C.E– The easy-to-remember acronym R.I.C.E. Stands for Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. If you experience pain in your heel, this is the easiest method of pain relief to try. Rest your feet by sitting or lying down. Taking the weight of your body off of your feet often provides relief. Apply Ice directly to the painful area several times a day for 20 minutes at a time. Ice helps to reduce the localized inflammation that causes pain. Compression provides support to the injured area and helps to prevent further irritation and injury. Elevate your foot to help decrease inflammation to the area and aid in providing better circulation.
2. Stretching– The American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society recommends performing two daily stretching exercises to help with plantar fasciitis. Stretching increases the flexibility of the foot’s fascia and the Achilles tendon area. The more flexible your foot is, the less you have of experiencing episodes of plantar fasciitis.
- Stretch A (also known as “The Gastroc Stretch”): Stand a few feet away from a wall. Place your hands on the wall for balance and support. While keeping the affected foot firmly planted on the floor and the affected leg straight, bend your unaffected leg at the knee and slowly lean into the wall. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. This stretch can be repeated up to 20 times. This exercise helps to stretch your Achilles’ tendon.
- Stretch B: Stand in front of a waist-level counter. Place feet side-by-side. Shuffle one foot forward half the length of the other foot. Slowly lower your body into a squat position, remembering to keep your knees flexed and your heels firmly planted on the floor. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Return to an upright position and relax between repetitions. This stretch can be repeated up to 20 times for each foot.
3. Strengthening Your Feet and Surrounding Muscles– Both weight bearing and non-weight bearing exercises can help to strengthen the muscles in your feet and the surrounding muscles that help your feet perform at their best.
Non-weight Bearing Exercise
- Toe Curls – Lay a towel or sheet on the floor. Using the toes of the affected foot, try to grasp the material 3 to 5 times, twice a day.
- Intrinsic Muscle Stretch – In a seated position, place the affected foot on the knee of the non-affected leg. Grasp the toes of the affected foot and gently pull upwards for approximately 30 seconds. Perform this exercise for 3 repetitions, up to 3 times a day.
Weight Bearing Exercise
- Standing Calf Raises – Using your feet, slowly lift your body upwards 3 to 4 inches, until you are almost standing on your toes. Aim to hold this position for up to 30 seconds at a time. After 30 seconds, slowly lower yourself back to the ground. This exercise uses your natural body weight to stretch your calf muscles. This exercise can be repeated up to 3 times a day.
- A variation of this exercise can be performed using stairs. Stand with your feet half way off of the step and slowly raise yourself up, as when performing standing calf raises. Hold 30 seconds, then repeat for 3 repetitions, 3 times a day.
4. Massage – Deep tissue massage techniques help to loosen tight muscles and ligaments in the foot. Massage can be performed by hand or using a tennis ball. The direct pressure from massage can bring about measured pain relief for many. The key to an effective heel massage is to remember to use firm, even pressure.
5. Orthotic Devices– There are a wide variety of orthotic devices available on the market that can provide relief from plantar fasciitis pain.
- Cushioned shoe insoles – designed to be worn inside of your shoes, these devices provide pressure relief and help to reduce foot strike impact.
- Heel pads and cups – reduce pain by providing cushioning for tender heels.
- Arch supports – help to lift and support the arches of people that have flat feet.
- Foot and ankle braces – support foot and ankle structures in an effort to reduce plantar fasciitis pain.
6. The Right Shoes- Wearing the right shoes for your feet will go a long way towards preventing some of the more common foot problems. Shoes that are too narrow, too constricting, or don’t fit correctly are the main cause of most foot and heel pain issues. The physical structure of your feet will change over time. That is why it is important to remember have your feet regularly and professionally fitted for shoes. A podiatrist can help you find the right shoes to accommodate your individual foot health condition.
7. Weight Loss Equals Healthier Feet- Your feet go through a lot during the course of an average day. They bear your entire body weight, in addition to the impact of gravitation forces and foot strike impact, during every step you take. The average person takes anywhere between 6,000 and 10,000 steps each day. That equals out to thousands of pounds of force inflicted on your feet.
Being overweight places even more stress on your feet. Even being as little as 5 to 10 pounds more overweight can have an unhealthy effect on your feet. The more overweight you are, the worse the effects are.
Eating a healthy diet and getting enough of the right kinds of exercise play are a large part of maintaining a healthy weight. If you have tried to lose weight without much success, consulting with a registered dietitian or nutritionist, in conjunction with your regular physician, can help put you on the path to achieving your weight loss goals. They can help you select foods and make menu plans that will make it easier for you reach a healthy weight.
Excess body weight can make the pain from plantar fasciitis worse. The closer you get to reaching your ideal weight, the fewer episodes of plantar fasciitis pain you are likely to experience. Good eating habits, coupled with regular exercise leads to a right weight loss track.
8. Laser therapy- Laser therapy is effective in treating acute pain of plantar fasciitis through a process known as photobiostimulation. Laser treatment offers pain relief and promotes healing of soft tissue pain like plantar fasciitis.
9. Shockwave therapy– Shockwave Therapy is a non-surgical and non-invasive treatment that sends acoustic energy waves into ligaments and tendons to break down calcifications and adhesions that prevent the tissue from healing.
Research has shown it to be one of the most effective tools for plantar fasciitis.
Plantar Fasciitis Doesn’t Have to Disrupt Your Life
When your heels hurt, the pain can have physical, emotional, and mental repercussions that touch every area of your life. The pain can result in reduced participation in activities you enjoy. It can cause irritability with friends, family members, and co-workers. The pain can prevent you from exercising and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Left untreated, it can lead to additional physical problems.
There is good news: You don’t have to needlessly suffer. Plantar fasciitis is a highly treatable condition. With proper, consistent treatment and care, you can be back on your feet and get back to enjoying your life. Faithfully following your doctor’s treatment plan, exercising, losing weight, and wearing properly fitted shoes are all very successful ways to beat plantar fasciitis pain.
Don’t suffer in silence any longer. Help is available. Take control of your foot health today. Contact your physician today to learn other steps you can take to begin putting your best foot forward again.