If, like me, you spend a fair amount of time on your feet, then perhaps you have firsthand knowledge about the pain of plantar fasciitis. If so, youre not alone.
According to the American Association of Orthopedic Surgeons, plantar fasciitis is the leading cause of heel pain, with more than 2 million Americans seeking treatment for this condition each year.
Plantar fasciitis often is described as a sharp pain in the bottom of the heel that may be most severe with the first few steps of the day. While pain may gradually improve as you limber up, it commonly flares after prolonged standing and may also strike when getting up from a seated position.
The plantar fascia is a dense band of tissue stretching from the heel to the forefoot along the sole.
The job of the plantar fascia is to absorb the shock of walking and support the arch of the foot. However, repetitive shock can produce injury to the plantar fascia, resulting in inflammation and pain. Chronic tension in the plantar fascia can lead to new bone formation, resulting in a heel spur.
Risk factors for plantar fasciitis include pregnancy, obesity, use of nonsupportive footwear and occupations that involve prolonged standing or walking.
Recreational activities such as running, ballet or aerobic dancing can increase the risk of plantar fasciitis. Certain people have a mechanical predisposition such as those with flat arches in the feet.
Footwear plays a key role in who develops plantar fasciitis. Lack of arch support and lack of a supportive sole are common footwear risks. Also, use of footwear that shortens the Achilles tendon, such as high heels or pumps, can contribute to the condition.
Fortunately for most, the treatment of plantar fasciitis is both simple and effective.
While the application of ice and the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can be very effective in managing a flare of plantar fasciitis pain, the key to treating this condition is a program of stretching exercises. If you suffer from chronic heel pain, try these exercises at home. Perform each two to three times twice a day and gradually increase the number until you reach a dozen or so.
First, stand with your hands against a wall and extend one leg behind you with the foot flat on the floor. Gradually lean forward to stretch your calf. Next, in the same position, bend the knees slightly and lean forward slowly until your heel begins to rise off the floor. Switch legs and repeat the process on the other side.
Try rolling the sole of your foot over a ball (about the size of a baseball) and gradually apply ever-greater pressure to the sole of the foot.
After a few weeks of exercises, if you are not experiencing relief from your heel pain, consider a trip to the doctor to discuss a formal physical therapy referral or possibly a steroid injection in the heel. Fortunately for most, invasive treatments usually are not necessary.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.