Is your heel pain plantar fasciitis?

Does your job require you to spend a lot of time on your feet? Are you a long-distance runner or have you recently picked up running? Are you overweight or have poor foot mechanics?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your heel pain may be plantar fasciitis.

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain in the U.S. with approximately 2 million Americans treated for this condition every year. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that stretches from the toes to the heel bone along the bottom of the foot that helps support the arch of the foot and plays an important role in proper foot mechanics.

The plantar fascia’s main job is to absorb the impacts and strains we put on our feet. Like any other ligament in the body, the plantar fascia can become irritated and inflamed when stressed, stretched or torn. Standing for long periods of time can increase tension on the plantar fascia, and the added stress of pushing off on the ball of the foot and toes when walking or running can further irritate the ligament.

Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms

The most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is heel pain. While there are other conditions that can cause heel pain – bone spurs, Achilles tendonitis, bursitis and stress fractures, to name a few – plantar fasciitis has some classic signs and symptoms:

  • Pain on the bottom of the heel and/or in the arch of the foot
  • Heel pain is worse with the first few steps in the morning
  • Heel pain at the start of an activity that lessens or goes away as you warm up
  • Heel pain that is worse after sitting or standing for a long time
  • Stiffness
  • Pain that lasts for months
  • A tight Achilles tendon
  • Pain worsens toward the end of the day (severe cases)

What causes plantar fasciitis?

Unfortunately, there is no one cause of plantar fasciitis and the condition can affect different people for different reasons. In many cases, plantar fasciitis develops without one discernable reason. There are, however, risk factors that make people more prone to plantar fasciitis:

  • A very high arch or flat foot
  • Obesity
  • Tight calf muscles that make flexing the foot difficult
  • New or increased activity (particularly running, jumping or dancing)
  • Occupations that require a lot of standing or walking
  • Poor foot mechanics
  • Bad or poorly-fitting shoes
  • Repetitive impact activities (i.e. running, sports, etc.)
  • Age (most common between the ages of 40 and 60)

Diagnosis and Plantar Fasciitis Treatment

To receive a proper diagnosis, it’s important to see a podiatrist or an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist. A foot doctor will typically be able to determine if you have plantar fasciitis during a physical examination of your foot and a detailed history of your symptoms. Imaging tests, such as X-rays, may be ordered to rule out other conditions – like fractures, arthritis or heel spurs.

Nonsurgical Treatment

More than nine out of 10 people’s plantar fasciitis improves with simple, nonsurgical treatment within 10 months. As with most soft tissue injuries, rest, ice and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can help with initial pain and inflammation.

Further plantar fasciitis treatment includes:

  • Physical therapy and stretching exercises
  • Cortisone injections
  • Night splints (to stretch the plantar fascia during sleep)
  • Supportive shoes and orthotics

Plantar Fasciitis Recovery Time

Unfortunately, treating plantar fasciitis is not a quick fix. Most people aren’t able or do not want to stay off their feet, which makes the treatment time for this condition stretch anywhere from six to 18 months.

If nonsurgical treatments aren’t effective after 12 months, a plantar fascia release surgery or a gastrocnemius recession may be recommended. In a plantar fascia release, the plantar fascia is partially cut to relieve some of the tension on the ligament. In a gastrocnemius recession, the calf muscles are lengthened to reduce the stress placed on the plantar fascia.

If you’re experiencing heel pain or want to talk to a podiatrist about your symptoms, please contact us today or leave a comment below.

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