Plantar Fasciitis

By:    Published: April 17, 2014

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Are you experiencing a sharp pain in the heel of your foot? You may have plantar fasciitis, which is the term used to describe a condition in which inflammation occurs in the tissue that is located along the bottom of the foot. This thick tissue is the plantar fascia. It is the tissue that stretches along the bottom of the foot and connects the toes to the heel bone. This tissue is what creates the arch in the foot.

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes for the development of pain in the heel. The pain that occurs is generally described as a stabbing pain that is the most painful during the morning after taking your first steps. As the foot muscles loosen up and blood circulation increases, the pain in the foot gradually begins to decrease in most individuals. It is common for the pain to return after prolonged periods of walking or standing, and when rising up from a seated position. Plantar fasciitis commonly affects individuals who are overweight, women who are pregnant, individuals who wear ill-fitting shoes without proper arch support, and runners.

Symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms associated with plantar fasciitis. The degree and severity of symptoms varies among individuals and depends on certain factors, such as how long the condition has been present and the possible underlying cause. Common symptoms experienced by most individuals with plantar fasciitis include:

  • Heel pain that develops gradually
  • Pain that affects only one foot, though it can affect both at times
  • Pain that is at its worst when taking the first few steps in the morning
  • Pain that is triggered by extended periods of walking or standing
  • Pain that occurs after getting up from an extended period of sitting
  • Pain that feels like a stabbing pain in the heel

Causes

The plantar fascia works to protect and support the arch of the foot by absorbing shock that occurs when walking. The tissue acts as a bowstring to absorb shock and tension that occurs in the foot. If tension becomes extensive, tiny tears in the plantar fascia can develop. The repetitive tearing and pulling that occurs on a regular basis can lead to irritation and inflammation of the plantar fascia.

Risk Factors

There are a variety of factors that can increase an individual’s risk of developing plantar fasciitis. Common risk factors include:

  • Being between the ages of 40 and 60
  • Being a woman
  • Participating in high-risk activities that place excessive stress on the heel and surrounding tissues, such as long-distance running and other sports that require a lot of running
  • Having flat feet
  • Having a high arch
  • Having an abnormal gait or walking pattern
  • Being obese
  • Working in a position that requires being on your feet all day such as teachers or factory workers
  • Regularly wearing high heels
  • Regularly wearing thin-soled shoes
  • Regularly wearing shoes that do not provide adequate arch support

Diagnostic Tests

A doctor will be able to diagnose plantar fasciitis after reviewing your medical history and performing a physical examination of your feet. An X-ray or MRI may also be required to rule out heel spurs, a pinched nerve or a stress fracture. Upon physical examination of your feet, your doctor will check for any areas of tenderness. To check your musculoskeletal system and examine your neurological health, your doctor will likely perform some of the following tests:

  • Test your reflexes
  • Test your muscle strength
  • Examine your muscle tone
  • Test your sense of touch
  • Test your sense of sight
  • Measure your balance
  • Test your coordination

Treatment Options

Fortunately, the majority of people who are diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, roughly 90 percent, will recover with minimal treatments in only a few short months. Conservative treatments that are highly effective in treating plantar fasciitis in most individuals include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen to ease pain and inflammation
  • Corticosteroids to reduce swelling
  • Physical therapy
  • Stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Night splints
  • Orthotics

Individuals who do not respond to conservative treatments may require more invasive treatments, such as:

  • Extracorporeal shock wave therapy which relies on sound waves directed at the heel to stimulate healing
  • Surgery to detach the plantar fascia from the heel bone

Alternative Medicine

Some individuals have reported a reduction in pain and improvement in their condition after using magnet therapy. There are over-the-counter arch supports available that are equipped with tiny magnets. There is currently no evidence that magnetic arch supports are any more effective at relieving heel pain that non-magnetic arch supports.

Home Remedies

There are simple measures that can be taken at home to help ease pain and relieve symptoms of plantar fasciitis. Effective home remedies include:

  • Elevating your feet as needed when pain is severe
  • Applying ice wrapped in a cloth to the foot 3-4 time per day for 15-20 minutes at a time
  • Rolling a frozen water bottle back and forth along the bottom of the foot for 5-7 minutes at a time
  • Cutting back on the amount of time spent walking or standing
  • Exchanging your high impact workout for a low impact exercise routine
  • Wearing arch supports
  • Stretching your arches and calf muscles

Prevention

There are some simple steps that can be taken to help decrease the chance of developing plantar fasciitis. Preventative measures include maintaining a healthy weight, wearing proper fitting shoes and avoiding shoes with high heels and poor arches, refraining from walking barefoot and replacing old athletic shoes before the arch support and cushioning breaks down.

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