The plantar fascia is the ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes. When this ligament becomes inflamed due to strains on your foot, it can cause stabbing pain in your heel and sometimes arches. This is the condition known as plantar fasciitis, which is one of the most common causes of heel pain.
Plantar fasciitis typically causes stabbing pain in the foot, which is usually worst with the first steps of the morning. Moving about on your feet will normally decrease the pain, but it can return after long periods of standing or resting.
While plantar fasciitis can occur after overexertion of the foot, which can lead to small tears in the plantar fascia that eventually become inflamed, it isn’t always clear what causes the condition. Some notable factors that can contribute to the condition include:
- Certain types of exercise, particularly those that place a lot of stress on your heel and the surrounding tissue, such as long-distance running, long-jumping, ballet dancing, and aerobic dance.
- Spending long periods of time on your feet; the condition is often seen in factory workers, teachers, soldiers, and others in occupations that keep them walking or standing for several hours on hard surfaces.
- Age—the condition is most common for people between the ages of 40 and 60, though it is often seen in younger people as well.
- Obesity or rapid weight gain can contribute to plantar fasciitis due to the extra stress on your feet.
- Foot conditions such as flatfoot, high arches, or simply an abnormal walking gait can put extra stress on the plantar fascia.
If you think you might have plantar fasciitis, you should not simply ignore the pain—in addition to the discomfort, plantar fasciitis can also cause you to alter the way you walk in ways that, over time, may lead to complications in your feet, knees, hips, or back. Treatment for plantar fasciitis is usually quite simple, and can include:
- Physical therapy—proper stretches of the foot, Achilles tendon, and lower leg can stabilize and support the foot and relieve pain in the heel. A therapist may also show you how to use athletic tape to lessen pain and increase heel support.
- Orthotics—your podiatrist can prescribe arch supports to help redistribute the pressure on your plantar fascia.
- Night splints—simple splints can be worn overnight to stretch your plantar fascia and Achilles tendon while you sleep, which can lessen pain upon waking and help facilitate a quicker recovery.
In more severe cases, your podiatrist might recommend injections, extracorporeal shock wave therapy (which uses sound waves to stimulate healing), the Tenex procedure (a minimally invasive procedure to remove scar tissue from the foot without surgery), or, in rare cases, surgery. Tenex is actually a surgical procedure with a small incision, it is minimally invasive but is a surgical procedure with an incision and not routinely done in the office.
To reduce the pain of plantar fasciitis, it is useful to maintain a healthy weight, wear supportive shoes that are in good condition, take a break from the sport or exercise which puts stress on your feet, and apply cold packs to the area of pain for about 20 minutes 3 or 4 times a day. You can also check with your podiatrist here at Bay Area Foot Care to learn some simple stretches for your plantar fascia, calves, and Achilles tendon that can reduce pain and help the condition resolve over time.