According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, approximately two million patients are treated for plantar fasciitis every year.
If you don’t know the pain of plantar fasciitis, consider yourself lucky. For those who suffer from this condition, the stabbing pain in the bottom of their feet is usually worse in the morning and makes getting up and facing the day difficult and sometimes daunting. The pain can be so constant and pervasive that according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), six percent of the people who responded to a questionnaire on pain said they used prescription pain medication to help them cope with their chronic plantar fasciitis pain.
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the plantar fascia—the thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes and creates the arch of the foot—becomes swollen or inflamed.
The plantar fascia is designed to absorb the high stresses and strains we place on our feet, but sometimes too much pressure can damage or tear the tissues. The body’s natural response to injury is inflammation, which results in heel pain and stiffness.
The risk factors for plantar fasciitis include obesity, having a very high arch as well as tight calf muscles, participating in repetitive impact activities (such as running or other sports), and using poor footwear.
Therapies to help patients with plantar fasciitis can be conservative and still effective. Wearing the proper shoes that provide good arch support or using orthotic inserts is one of the easiest things to help. Flip-flops are among the worst offenders when it comes to plantar fasciitis. In the summertime, when the weather warms up and more people start to wear flat, open-toe shoes such as flip-flops, the number of appointments where the main complaint is plantar fasciitis increases quite a bit.
Massaging the bottom of the foot with ice can bring relief too. Fill a 12-ounce plastic bottle with water and put it in the freezer. Once the water is frozen, simply roll the bottle under the foot to help with the pain.
Stretching correctly and often is also a good solution for alleviating and possibly preventing plantar fasciitis pain. An overpull of the gastroc-soleus complex (the muscles the back of your knee, calf, heel, and your Achilles tendon) on the heel bone (calcaneus) is the typical cause of plantar fasciitis, so warming up and lengthening this group of muscles will support the plantar fascia.
Some exercises to help stretch this specific area include stretching your calves, feet, toes, and plantar fascia. (See photos with descriptions for more on how to do these stretches effectively.) Doing some stretches before going to bed, before you even get out of bed in the morning, and before and after exercise is recommended.
Wearing a night splint can help too. Dorsal (top side of foot) night splints are designed to go on the front of the foot and are generally considered the most comfortable night splint. The purpose of night splints is to help prevent nighttime foot drop and accompanying muscle tightness. This helps reduce pain before you start putting weight on your plantar fascia in the morning.
Including a healthy diet predominately made up of whole foods and limiting highly processed foods with low nutrients is important too.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammatory condition. Current scientific studies suggest that the two food groups that increase inflammation are sugar and refined flour. Other research has shown that some supplements may help reduce inflammation. Those include boswellia, curcumin, and omega-3 fatty acids just to name a few.
Different types of injections, surgery, and electric current therapies are also used to help treat plantar fasciitis. Your healthcare provider is the best person to assess what more invasive or advanced treatment plans would work best for you.
Lastly, those who exercise often and suffer from plantar fasciitis are recommended to not overdo it. Know your limits and stay within them may sound pretty simple. But often the simplest answer can be the best one. Listen to your body and only do your stretches—or any exercise—to the point of being mildly-tomoderately challenged. Your aching feet are sure to thank you.
Foot Stretch: Flex then point your foot ten times, holding each position for a 10-second count. (Do this before you put any weight on your foot. You can do it in bed before you get up.)
Toe Stretch: With your foot flexed and your heel on the ground, toes up, pull each toe toward you one at a time. Do each pull for a 10-second count.
Towel Stretch: Sit on the floor with your legs extended in front of you. Place the middle of a towel under the ball of your foot, sit up straight, and hold the towel at both ends. Gently pull the towel toward you while keeping your knee straight. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat two to four times.
Plantar Fascia Icing: While seated, roll your foot back and forth over a bottle of frozen water or a foam roller. Do this for one minute and then switch to the other foot.
Calf Stretch: Stand an arm’s length away from a wall and place your hands on the wall. Place you left foot approximately 12 inches behind your right foot with the toes of both feet pointed toward the wall. Slowly and gently bend your right leg forward. Keep you left knee straight and your left heel on the ground. Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and release. Repeat three times. Reverse the position of your legs and repeat.