Plantar fasciitis – a leading cause of heel pain

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One of our most used and yet abused parts of our body is our feet.  We may not think much about them until they hurt.  Our feet take the brunt of our everyday life – we walk, run, skip, hop, pound them on unforgiving pavement and they still can take a beating.  But after all the abuse our feet take, sometimes they have had enough and one way they let you know is with pain in your heel.

What is plantar fasciitis

A condition called plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain.  The planta fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes and normally acts as a shock absorber supporting the arch of your foot.   But if the plantar fascia is strained from repeated stress this can lead to small tears resulting in inflammation in the tissue where it becomes weak, swollen, and irritated or inflamed.

Causes of plantar fasciitis

There are a few different causes of plantar fasciitis which include:

·      Repeated force from high-impact activities and sports involving a lot of jumping

·      Wearing high heels placing added stress on the fascia

·      A job involving a lot of standing or walking

·      People who are flat-footed – this causes an uneven distribution of weight when someone walks putting added stress and pressure on the fascia

Symptoms

·      Pain in the heel

·      Pain when climbing stairs

·      Pain when participating in intense activities such as running

·      Often felt first thing in the morning when stepping out of bed

·      Pain can increase after sitting for a long period of time

The length of time having symptoms of plantar fasciitis varies but it can last a long time and complications can develop from it.  Scar tissue can form which continues the inflammation of the fascia and makes it more difficult to treat.  Having plantar fasciitis can lead to pain elsewhere – if experiencing heel pain, a person may change how they walk which can lead to pain in the knees, hips, or even the back.

Treatment

A person who has plantar fasciitis can start with home treatment remedies that may take it away.  Here are some options to consider:

·      Apply ice three or four times each day for 15 minutes at a time wrapping the ice pack in a towel placing it on the heel.

·      Take an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication to reduce discomfort and inflammation.

·      Use an orthotic or custom foot support within shoes.  This can support the arch and help evenly distribute the weight placed on the heel when a person walks.

·      Wearing a splint at night helps to stretch the arch and calf relieving discomfort

·      Switch from high-impact activities such as running to walking or swimming which is easier on the heel.

If home remedy treatments do not work, make an appointment with a doctor who may recommend the following:

·      Steroid injections – this reduces inflammation but frequent injections can weaken the ligament

·      Surgery – if all other options fail and the pain persists, this may be a last resort.  A procedure called a plantar fascia release will partially cut the fascia ligament to reduce tension of the tissue.

Preventing plantar fasciitis

The best course of action is to practice prevention methods of developing plantar fasciitis in the first place.  Here are a few ideas to help prevent this condition:

·      Avoid high heels

·      Wear shoes with a moderate heel that have good arch support

·      Avoid going barefoot as the lack of support can lead to heel pain

·      Athletic shoes should have good support cushioning the feet

·      Stretches help reduce heel pain. Stretches to do first thing in the morning include:

·      Sit in a cross-legged position at the end of the bed or a chair.  Place the affected foot over the knee of the other leg.  Grab the heel of the painful foot with one hand and the toes with the other hand and gently pull up on the toes while at the same time pull up on the heel.  Hold the stretch for about 10 seconds.  Relax the foot and repeat 10 to 20 times.

·      Sitting in a chair, hold the leg out straight and flex and extend at the ankle joint.  This stretches the fascia and the calf muscle.  Repeat 10 times on each foot.

·      Place the hands on a wall keeping the back leg straight and the heel down.  Pull the hips forward towards the wall until the stretch is felt in the back of the lower leg.  Hold for 10 seconds and repeat several times.

All exercises courtesy of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons