When I think of plantar fasciitis, I think of a former crotchety coworker of mine who used her plantar fasciitis as a thinly veiled attempt to criticize my choice of footwear at work (she had less thinly veiled criticism of other things, though). You probably think about pain when you think about plantar fasciitis. And footwear can indeed greatly impact the severity of your symptoms, but don’t use that knowledge to passive-aggressively irritate those around you. You know your foot hurts, but what is plantar fasciitis, exactly? Well, your plantar fascia is a ligament stretching across the bottom of your foot from your heel to your toes, and when it’s overworked, you feel the pain and stiffness in your heel. Sometimes it carries into the rest of the bottom of your foot, too. Oftentimes, symptoms are worse when you first get up but get better after your foot has a chance to stretch out again. Usually plantar fasciitis is an overuse thing, but it can occasionally occur as a result of a particular incident. Treating it effectively will mostly involve a few changes in your habits, but there are some medical treatments to ease the pain of plantar fasciitis, too.
- High arches or flat feet
- Sudden weight gain and obesity
- Tight calf muscles or Achilles tendon
- Long-distance running
- Sudden increase in activity
- Footwear with improper arch support
Best Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis
Good habits can lower your likelihood of developing plantar fasciitis. Most importantly, maintain a healthy body weight. I know that’s easier said than done, but any extra weight you carry around puts more pressure on your feet to support it all, and they can’t always handle it. No matter your size or shape, you do need good shoes. High heels and flip flops don’t support foot health, and neither do old, worn out shoes. Get a good pair with a low heel and good arch supports…they will absorb the shock of feet hitting the ground all day.
Take the pressure off your feet. Keep off your feet as much as you can when your symptoms flare up. If you’re a die-hard athlete, at the very least, lessen the length and intensity of your workout, or switch to swimming or biking. Any low-impact activity will allow you to stay fit while keeping it easy on your feet. If your work keeps you on your feet all day and your boss won’t let you ride a bike around the office, you’ll have to resort to other methods.
Try one of the many home remedies to ease plantar fasciitis. A few times a day, you can ice the pain away for about fifteen minutes at a time. To get yourself feeling better fairly quickly, pull out your favorite OTC non-steroidal anti-inflammatory. Drugs like Advil, Aleve (which Amazon sells), and their generic counterparts reduce pain and swelling, making you more comfortable. They don’t actually treat the specific problem though, so you’re not done yet. If your shoes are the culprit, get new ones that will support your feet, or try arch supports in the ones you already have.
Physical therapy can target the muscles in question.You’re in pain because your musculature is too tight and weak to do its job properly, so that needs to be fixed. To try building your own PT regimen, see the sidebar for some stretching and strengthening exercises for your plantar fascia, calf, and Achilles tendon. Otherwise, a doctor can hook you up with formal therapy sessions with a professional who will build a program that will provide you with maximum benefits. Besides stretches and exercises, you might even get some massage out of the deal that way.
Your doctor might provide other treatments as well.Besides the already mentioned home methods—which will probably be recommended—your primary doctor might provide you with corticosteroids for your heel, custom orthotics that best fit your feet, a boot cast, or night splints (like these sold at Amazon) to stretch your foot while you sleep. Probably a combination of the above. If your plantar fasciitis is stubborn and doesn’t respond to these treatments, you may need surgery to get your foot the way it should be, but that’s fairly uncommon. Hopefully you won’t get a life sentence of wearing those fashionable orthotic shoes for plantar fasciitis.
Exercises for Plantar Fasciitis
- Plantar Fascia Stretch: While seated, set the painful foot on the other knee by crossing your legs. Grab your toes and gently pull them back towards your leg and hold for about fifteen seconds. Repeat three times.
- Achilles Tendon Stretch: Stand on some stairs facing the staircase. On your injured side, keep the ball of your foot on the stair and lower your heel to the step below it until you feel the stretch in your foot and hold there for twenty seconds. Repeat three times.
- Towel Pick-up: While seated, place a towel on the floor and use your toes to pick it up. Let it go and repeat a dozen times or so.
- Heel Raise: Using a chair for balance, stand up on your toes, hold for five seconds and slowly lower your whole foot back to the ground, not holding the chair if you can. Repeat a dozen times.
- Prone Hip Extension: While lying on your stomach on the floor, tighten the back of your legs and butt on your injured side and raise that leg eight inches or so off the floor. Hold for five seconds and repeat a dozen times.
Long-Term Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis
As with most injuries, getting rid of plantar fasciitis is a process that takes time and patience. Treatment might require some trial and error to find out what works best for you. Maybe a new pair of shoes is all you really need, or you could be at the other end of the spectrum, needing surgery and physical therapy. Some companies would have you believe that magnets in arch supports will relieve your pain, but there is no proof that they actually do anything for you. Most of the treatments given here that provide lasting relief are more lifestyle changes than anything else. You will have to stick with your plantar fasciitis exercises, keep wearing orthotics, and do your best to maintain a healthy body weight. Plantar fasciitis might flare up for you time and again, forcing you to revisit these things. If you can’t beat it entirely, you may have to learn to manage your pain, and in doing so become great friends with your doctor.