Do you have heel pain?
Those who have suffered from heel pain, most often because of plantar fasciitis, know that the stabbing pain can be debilitating, often keeping you sidelined from your favorite activities or even from performing your daily activities.
“Plantar fasciitis seems to have recently reached epidemic proportions,” says Dr. Mary Johnson, a board-certified podiatrist. “Because the average person takes at least 5000-7000 steps per day, and because we live in a world of concrete and hard surfaces, our feet are continually taking a significant impact and load on a daily basis. Combine that with poor shoe gear choices that lack support it is almost inevitable that at some point, the average person will experience heel pain”.
“Although previously considered a common sports injury, affecting professional athletes, presently it seems as if no one is spared from the pain of plantar fasciitis,”
According to the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), two million patients are treated for this condition every year. As an avid runner, triathlete and podiatrist, even I have suffered from plantar fasciitis myself. At one point, I felt like I was never going to get better and had to sideline myself from the activities I love. Those first steps in the morning getting out of bed or stepping out of my car after commuting to work were unbearable. Luckily, I knew what to do and how to minimize the damage and get back to my activities quickly but it did take time and dedication.
If you, too, are feeling the pain, here’s everything you need to know about reducing inflammation and getting back on your feet.
What does plantar fasciitis feel like?
“Plantar fasciitis usually starts as pain on the bottom of the foot by the heel bone,” says Johnson, adding that the pain is most often felt when getting out of bed or any time after sitting for a prolonged amount of time and starting to walk. “It can often ease after being on the foot for a while and then the pain returns again with increased activity,” she says.
Johnson explains that the plantar fascia is a band of supportive tissue on the bottom of the foot that supports four layers of muscles, extending from the heel bone to the forefoot. “The pain usually begins directly where the plantar fascia attaches to the heel bone,” she says. But since the band supports the arch of your foot, as it becomes irritated and inflamed, the pain can spread along the bottom of the foot and arch. Sometimes this can even lead to micro tears of the fibers of the plantar fascia.
While there is no one cause of plantar fasciitis, we do know that some things can exacerbate it. Dr. Johnson says that repetitive stress, weight gain, improper shoes, exercise and sporting activities (especially repetitive motions or a new activity), along with natural tightening of our muscles and tendons over time, can all contribute to developing plantar fasciitis.
What to do to relieve plantar fasciitis pain
Treatments like resting, proper shoe gear, support and stretching are some steps you can take to reduce the pain during the healing process. Supportive taping and strapping can protect the foot from aggravating the plantar fasciitis even further. A splint can be especially helpful to wear at night to keep the foot in a flexed position and reduce pain in the morning. If there is pain with activity, consider cross-training or performing other activities that don’t aggravate the plantar fascia. Post-workout massage helps to speed recovery and provides some pain relief. But most importantly is taking a look at the types of shoes you are wearing and making sure they are supportive, rigid and of the correct size. Also, avoiding going barefooted is very helpful as is avoiding flip flops or any shoes that your foot doesn’t feel secure in. Stretching the posterior muscles to relieve the tightness is also paramount to helping heal the plantar fascia.
When should you see a doctor?
Dr. Mary Johnson recommends having a professional evaluation of your foot if the pain does not resolve in 1 or 2 weeks. Stretching should be done consistently, as should wearing supportive shoes, but if the pain continues it is best to have an X-ray and possibly an ultrasound evaluation. “There are many causes of foot pain including stress fractures, a plantar fascial tear or nerve impingements and a foot specialist can help to differentiate your particular challenge and offer the treatment needed to alleviate pain and get you back to normal activities,” she advises.
Often times, with plantar fasciitis, the longer you delay treatment and seeking professional help, the longer it can take to heal. If the pain doesn’t resolve with the treatments and changes of habits mentioned above within a few weeks, don’t delay in asking for help.