Your feet are an essential part of your body; and your daily life. You aren’t alone if you don’t think about your feet much. Most of us are glad they’re there and that’s about all. If your feet start to hurt, that’s when we’re more likely to pay attention to them. Maybe you’ve been noticing a gradual increase of pain in your heel, or perhaps your heel or foot starts to hurt after you get up from sitting or laying down and take your first step in the morning. First-step pain is another name for a painful condition called plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of pain in the heel. In this article, we’ll explore what is plantar fasciitis, its symptoms and causes, and how to treat it effectively.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the plantar fascia. Let’s break it down; inflammation is characterized by pain, heat, and sometimes swelling. It is the body’s way of protecting damaged tissue and can be part of the healing process. However, sometimes inflammation can go too far and cause problems like plantar fasciitis. (Any health condition with “itis” on the end is an inflammatory condition.)
The plantar fascia is a long, wide, thick piece of connective tissue integral to your foot’s stability. This connective tissue is strong and fibrous and helps to support your whole foot. It runs from the base of the heel and branches out at the top to connect to the bottom of each of your toes. It helps to give your foot its arch and is an essential player in the mechanics of walking.
Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis
Here are some of the symptoms of plantar fasciitis.
- The most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is a pain in the heel, particularly after taking the first step after a period of inactivity, like sleeping or sitting.
- Dull to sharp, stabbing pain in the heel.
- Pain that feels like an ache or a burn on the bottom of your foot.
- Pain that tends to be worse in the morning and can improve over the day as you become more active.
- Pain that can be aggravated by a lot of physical activity, such as running or standing.
- Swelling of the heel.
- Tension in the Achilles tendon.
- Pain that lasts for months.
Causes of Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is caused by strain on the plantar fascia. Here are some potential causes of your plantar fasciitis.
- Excessive standing, especially on hard surfaces like cement.
- Increase in physical activity that involves impact on your feet. This includes sports like running, especially long distances.
- The way your foot is shaped.
- Running, walking, or standing on hard surfaces like cement.
- Wearing shoes that lack support or padding or cause strain to the foot.
- Being overweight can cause extra strain on your feet.
Plantar Fasciitis Treatment
Here are some of the recommended treatments for plantar fasciitis. The longer you’ve had plantar fasciitis and the more severe it is; the longer treatments will take to resolve your condition. Additionally, if you’re an athlete like a long-distance runner, you may also need more time to heal.
- Stretching and physical therapy
Stretching is by far the most effective treatment for plantar fasciitis. Most plantar fasciitis is resolved by stretching or physical therapy. Stretching for plantar fasciitis is focused on the plantar fascia on the bottom of your foot and the Achilles tendon on the back of your ankle.
Applying ice or cold packs to your foot is a sure way to bring down inflammation and offer pain relief. Wrap a cloth around your ice and place it on your foot for 15 minutes.
Many people find relief using NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), like ibuprofen. These are safe, low-cost, and usually effective temporary treatments for plantar fasciitis.
Rest can be the best way to ease or prevent plantar fasciitis. Now you have an excellent reason to put your feet up, or take an extra five minute work break.
- Modifying activities
Since daily activities can aggravate plantar fasciitis, making lifestyle modifications can bring some relief. Consider changes such as:
- Increasing the use of shock resistance surfaces for exercise and standing. Run or walk on dirt paths or a track, and purchase a padded mat or mats for areas where you stand a lot at work and home.
- Use shoes with good arch and heel support. There are many kinds of shoes designed for foot conditions like plantar fasciitis. Extra cushioning along the sole is also a good idea.
- Tape your foot and ankle with athletic tape to support your foot structure.
- Use a night splint while sleeping to stretch your foot. A night splint keeps your foot in a flexed position, which stretches your plantar fascia, the tissue that’s inflamed and causing pain.
- Try to walk or run less. Consider lower impact activities, or wear orthotics if you need to walk.
- Do lower impact exercise like swimming or cycling. These activities can replace higher impact sports like running while you heal.
Orthotics are molded plastic foot supports that go into a person’s shoes and can be purchased pre-made or custom fitted. They have been found to be quite effective in treating acute plantar fasciitis that did not respond to treatments such as NSAID medications, stretching, lifestyle modifications, physical therapy, or steroid treatments. And an additional benefit to the use of orthotics is that they have little to no risks or side effects, unlike surgery or steroid treatments.
- Shock wave therapy
Shock wave therapy is a non-invasive and non-surgical treatment for plantar fasciitis and other ligament and tendon issues. Shock waves are pressure or sound waves. Using a special tool, these sound or pressure waves are harnessed and aimed at the damaged tissue on the foot. These sound waves can be low-energy or high-energy; either way, when used on a targeted area, the sound waves cause tiny tears on the plantar fascia, also known as microscopic trauma. These minor injuries trigger the body’s healing mechanisms, leading to a deeper repair of the plantar fascia.
- Steroid injections
One of the last medical treatments for plantar fasciitis is steroid injections which will reduce the inflammation in your foot. This is an effective treatment for the pain and discomfort of plantar fasciitis, but it is temporary, with the relief lasting from four to twelve weeks. Research has shown that using steroids to treat plantar fasciitis is more effective than other home remedies or self-treatments. However, there is a small risk of fascia rupture, so physicians must be judicious in using this treatment. Steroids also come with potential side effects such as:
- Your appetite increasing
- Gaining some weight
- Experiencing mood swings
- Weakening of the muscles
- Vision blurring
- New body hair growth
- Bruising more easily
- Gastrocnemius recession
- Your appetite increasing
This is the surgical option for plantar fasciitis, though this procedure is relatively rare since plantar fasciitis can usually be resolved with the treatments we discussed above. Most doctors will try other treatments before opting for surgical treatment. However, this is the surgery that would be performed for severe cases. Tension in the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle can cause tension in the plantar fascia, so this surgery lengthens the part of the Achilles tendon called the gastroc tendon. This allows the heel to move into a more natural position and reduces tension on the plantar fascia.
Plantar Fasciitis Relief with YouMari
YouMari is an advanced self-treatment program that uses targeted self-assessments to create a customized self-treatment plan of exercises, stretches, and self-massage to manage and treat musculoskeletal issues like plantar fasciitis. With YouMari’s help, you can take charge of your pain and discomfort and build strength while releasing muscular tension at the root cause of your pain. Try YouMari today!