There are an amazing number of ways your feet can hurt: everything from broken bones to bunions to sprains and strains and more. And when your feet hurt, you hurt all over.
One common kind of pain is in your heel and perhaps your arch. It gets worse as the weight moves to your toes such as pushing off when running, and is generally worse in the morning or after a long period of not moving your feet. If this is your experience then it’s likely that you’re experiencing plantar fasciitis (fash-ee-EYE-tis).
There are other foot problems like a heel spur or stress fracture that may have similar symptoms, and only your doctor can provide a definitive diagnosis.
Plantar fasciitis affects mostly runners, walkers, hikers, and anyone who stands for long periods of time such as cashiers. For most people, simple self-help treatments result in recovery fairly quickly. However, there is also chronic plantar fasciitis that may last for years undermining your fitness and general health.
What’s happening in my foot?
Most muscles in your body are wrapped in tough, fibrous tissue called fascia. There are also bands of fascia that connect bone to bone more like a ligament. On the bottom of your foot, called the plantar side, is a thick band of fascia that starts at the bottom of your heel, divides into five parts, and connects at the base of your toes. This is sometimes called the plantar fascia ligament.
There are many muscles, nerves, and blood vessels over the bottom of your foot. The plantar fascia covers these, and acts as a kind of bowstring on the bottom of the foot. This helps the bones of the foot to maintain the arch. There is also a pad of fat between the heel bone and plantar fascia that cushions the heel with each footstep.
The –itis ending in most medical jargon means irritation or inflammation, and that’s the implication here. That is, for some reason the plantar fascia have become irritated and thus painful at the heel. However, It may result also from a thickening or degeneration of the fascia.
How to treat plantar fasciitis.
At base, plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury. It is generally caused by chronic irritation of the arch of the foot due to excessive strain.
There are some self-help aspects to treating your plantar fasciitis. Without any other intervention these may help you recover from the plantar fasciitis within a month or so.
First, get off your feet as much as you can. Clearly this is difficult if your work requires standing, but there may be ways of minimizing the standing. For example, a supermarket cashier might request that a rotating stool be made available at the register so that some of the work can be done seated.
Second, you may wish to consult your doctor about using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Aspirin, Ibuprofen, or Aleve.
Third, try using an ice pack on the bottom of your foot for 20 minutes at a time two or three times a day. As I may have said elsewhere, ice brings a double benefit: For the first 10 minutes or so, the cold reduces inflammation. After that the Hunting effect kicks in and the ice actually increases the healing flow of blood to the area.
And fourth, stretch. There are specific stretches that are important not only to help recover from plantar fasciitis, but also to help prevent a recurrence in future. I have outlined a few of these below.
There are other interventions.
For example, the irritating strain that has caused plantar fasciitis is frequently the result of postural imbalance. In my pain relief practice the treatment I have found to be effective for plantar fasciitis aims to restore natural postural balance.
As a last resort, in severe cases of chronic plantar fasciitis more powerful drugs like cortisone may be indicated as may surgery to relieve pressure.
Stretch your way to health.
These simple stretches can be done as you’re getting out of bed in the morning. They can be done also periodically during the day while seated. Please start doing these gently so that you don’t give yourself a cramp or cause more injury. For the first four, hold each stretch for 10 seconds or more, and relax briefly before going on to the next one.
First, lying on your back in bed, point your toes. This shortens and relieves strain on the fascia.
Second, point the ball of your foot. This is done by extending your toes up. This movement stretches the plantar fascia which needs stretching desperately.
Third, point your heel. This stretches the calf muscles at the back of your leg which are often implicated in plantar fasciitis.
And fourth, roll your feet and ankles around to encourage flexibility at the ankles.
Now repeat the above sequence of stretches several times.
After all of that, sit on the edge of your bed, or a chair, and roll your foot around over a tennis ball.
Plantar fasciitis is one of those conditions that can really make you miserable. As soon as you feel the heel pain coming on, if not before, start the stretches I suggest, and consider using the gently postural intervention I offer. As with all the conditions I discuss, please don’t hesitate to consult your doctor.