The "plantar fascia" is a chord of tissue that runs from the heel to the toes on the bottom of the foot. When this tissue becomes inflamed, pain can develop in the heel and it can be quite severe. This is known as "plantar fasciitis." If you are overweight, pregnant, wear shoes with inadequate support or you participate in sports with a lot of impact to the bottom of your feet, your risk for getting plantar fasciitis goes up. If you do develop it, there are several treatment options that you can utilize.
When you have plantar fasciitis, the pain can be most significant when you first get out of bed and take a few steps in the morning. After you have walked around for a while, the pain generally subsides, but it can flare up if you were seated for a while and you get up or if you were standing for a long period of time.
One of the fist lines of defense in treating plantar fasciitis is the use of over-the-counter anti-inflammatories to ease the pain. Naproxen and ibuprofen are two examples of these. Corticosteroids are also used, either by injecting them into the fascia with the use of ultrasound guidance for accurate placement, or by a process called "iontophoresis." In this procedure, the steroid solution is applied to the skin and a pain-free electrical current is used to help promote the absorption.
Your physical therapist may recommend some exercises and stretches to help strengthen and lengthen the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon. A common example of this is a stretch that works the heels and foot arches. To do a wall stretch, place your hands on the wall and stand with one foot in front of the other. Bend your front knee and keep your back leg straight. Lean forward until you feel the stretch in your heel, calf and arch. A similar stretch can be done with your hands on a table or countertop. To do this stretch, place your feet in the same position as the wall stretch with your hands on the table. Lean back and squat down until you feel the stretch in your arches, calves and heels. Hold these positions for ten seconds and do 20 reps for each foot that is causing you pain.
A common cause of plantar fasciitis is poorly fitted shoes and bad walking mechanics. To help treat this, your doctor may prescribe custom-fit orthotics to place into your shoes. This can help displace the weight pushing down on your feet and reduce the pain.
When you sleep, your arches and heels have a tendency to become tight. This can be treated by wearing night splints that your doctor will get you fitted for. They run from your calves down to your feet and they keep your Achilles tendon and plantar fascia in a lengthened position while you are sleeping.
Examples of home treatments recommended by the Mayo Clinic include resting your sore foot for several days, applying ice for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day, decreasing your miles if you are a runner and substituting non-impact exercise for walking and running. Examples of non-impact exercises are swimming, elliptical training, biking and rowing.
There are strategies you can follow to avoid plantar fasciitis in the first place. Avoid wearing athletic shoes that are worn out, avoid wearing high heels and keep your weight under control to reduce the stress on your arches.