Plantar fasciitis is a condition that causes pain under the heel. The term means ‘inflammation of the plantar fascia.’ The plantar fascia is a strong band of tissue, similar to a ligament, which is found between the heel and the middle bones of the foot. Its purpose is to support the arch of the foot. Small injuries to this band of tissue can cause inflammation and pain, which is usually located near where the tissue connects to the heel.
Who is at Risk?
Plantar fasciitis is a rather common condition which most often affects people over the age of forty and athletes. Women are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis than men. There are certain situations that can lead to developing this condition, such as doing a lot of standing, walking or running after a long period of no exercise, wearing shoes without proper support, suddenly putting un weight or simply being overweight, which puts extra pressure on the heel, or tightness of the Achilles tendon, which is located between the heel and the bottom of the calf muscles. In some cases, particularly with older people, there is no apparent cause. A common misconception is that this pain is caused by a bone spur in the heel, but most people do have bone spurs located at the heel and this is not the cause of the problem.
What are the Symptoms?
The most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is pain, found anywhere on the underside of the heel. It is not unusual that there is one particular spot where the pain is focused, about four centimetres from the heel, and it is typically tender to the touch. The pain usually decreases when sitting but can be more intense after the injured foot is first used in the morning. While gentle exercise may help the pain over the course of the day, a long walk can make the pain worse. Stretching the foot, such as going up on tip-toes or walking up a flight of stairs, may cause a sudden intense pain.
Treating Plantar Fasciitis
Most cases of plantar fasciitis will sort themselves out over time with rest. Unfortunately, the fascia tissue heals very slowly, so the recovery time may last months. Here are a few tips that can help speed up the recovery:
Rest the foot as much as possible and avoid running, standing or walking for long periods. Choose appropriate footwear while your foot is recovering. Avoid walking barefoot on hard surfaces and wear shoes with good arch support and cushioning in the heel. Consider buying heel pads to insert in your shoes to provide extra support. Painkillers such as paracetemol can help with the pain and ibuprofen can help with the inflammation. An anti-inflammatory cream that can be rubbed into the heel can also be helpful.
In more severe cases, medical intervention may be needed. If the pain continues after following the tips above, an injection of anti-inflammatory steroid may need to be administered to the heel to help the tissue recover. Splints can be worn overnight to help keep the tissues slightly stretched, and some patients with severe cases may need to have a plaster cast on their foot to ensure the foot gets the rest it needs. Surgery is only ever considered as a last resort.