The plantar fascia is a ligament that runs along the bottom of each foot and connects the toes to the heel.
It serves as a shock absorber and supports the arch of the foot. Inflammation of this ligament is called plantar fasciitis.
Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms
The most notorious of the plantar fasciitis symptoms is pain in the foot when the person gets out of bed in the mornings. The foot is also stiff.
The pain can be sharp and shooting or throbbing and dull and usually eases after the feet become active and warm. It returns after the person has been sitting or standing for a long time.
Causes of Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis is caused when pressure on the foot leads to tears in the fascia. These tears can be microscopic.
Eventually the tears enlarge, which causes the body to set up an inflammatory response. This leads to the pain of plantar fasciitis.
People who like to run or jog are at highest risk for plantar fasciitis, especially if they run on uneven ground for long distances.
It also afflicts people who wear shoes that do not support their feet, who have an uneven gait or who are overweight.
It is also a risk for people who have unusually tight Achilles tendons and problems with a joint in their foot or the arch of the foot. Even ballet dancers are at higher risk for plantar fasciitis.
People between ages 40 and 60 are more likely to get plantar fasciitis, as are workers who must stand for long hours like nurses, teachers and cashiers.
Diagnosing Plantar Fasciitis
The doctor who suspects their patient might have the disorder will inspect their foot for tenderness and shortened muscles that result from problems with the patient’s Achilles tendon.
They’ll check the range of motion of the ankle and the foot and may order imaging tests such as X-rays or MRIs to rule out other conditions or injuries.
A pinched nerve or a tiny fracture in the foot can cause symptoms that mimic those of plantar fasciitis, for example.
Imaging tests also uncover other abnormalities such as bone spurs, which are common in people with plantar fasciitis.
A bone spur is an accumulation of calcium that the body lays down to protect the heelbone. They may or may not cause pain.
Plantar Fasciitis Remedies
There are a number of possible remedies for plantar fasciitis. You may have to experiment to find which one, or combination, works best for you.
Possible remedies include:
- Orthotics or orthotic inserts
- Stretch board
- Night splints
- NSAID pain relievers (ibuprofen)
Runners, and even non-runners, need to invest in shoes that support the arches of their feet.
People who run frequently should regularly examine their running shoes to see if they are still supporting their feet. It might be necessary for the runner to get a new pair of running shoes every three months.
Shoe orthotics, or inserts are also helpful with the disorder because they cushion the plantar fascia.
Athletes especially need to learn to rest. They should not try and play through the pain, but stop and rest.
Icing the heel helps to reduce inflammation. Alternating heat and cold by soaking the feet in hot and then cold water brings relief to many people.
Heat exacerbates symptoms for some people, so they should be careful to rest their affected foot in a cold water bath after applying heat.
Splints that are worn at night stretch both the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia and keep them from tightening up while the person sleeps. This lessens the early morning pain.
Exercises that stretch the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the foot are good for plantar fasciitis sufferers. These include walking pop-ups, which require the person to walk on their tip toes on straight legs, straight leg circles-in and circles-out and other plyometric exercises.
Another of the plantar fasciitis remedies is to massage the arch of the foot by rolling it over a golf ball on the floor.
NSAIDs, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen or naproxen help with the pain. Some are taken as pills while some are creams that can be applied to the foot.
Though plantar fasciitis can be a painful condition, the great majority of people make a full recovery after a few months of treatment.