A common cause of foot and heel pain, plantar fasciitis refers to an inflammation of a tough band of connective tissue that connects the heel to the ball of the foot. This band, the plantar fascia, supports the foot during walking and standing. Because it is a load-bearing structure, inflammation and pain here can make movement difficult. People with plantar fasciitis typically report pain in the morning when they first step out of bed and when standing after a long period of sitting.
Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include sharp heel and lower arch pain, foot stiffness, hot or burning sensations and tenderness of the foot. Some people experience the condition only in one foot while others have bilateral pain. Discomfort can be acute or lingering, and the condition can persist for weeks. Some patients have recurring episodes of plantar fasciitis and get treatment as needed.
Plantar Fasciitis Causes
While anyone can get plantar fasciitis, it most commonly occurs in those whose feet undergo increased stress, including runners, joggers, people whose work demands hours of standing on hard surfaces and people who are overweight. Other risk factors include having naturally high arches and wearing shoes with insufficient arch support. Men are more likely to get plantar fasciitis than women, particularly men over 40.
Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis
Mild inflammation of the plantar fascia usually responds well to conservative treatment. Like many mild forms of inflammation due to overuse of muscles and tendons, plantar fasciitis pain can be eased with cryotherapy from cold packs, compression slings and rest. Many patients find the pain of their first few steps out of bed quickly fades after walking for a few minutes. Others find relief from performing simple foot-flexing exercises before standing. A physical therapist can recommend specific exercises to keep plantar fasciitis from affecting patients’ mobility.
Plantar fascia injuries may require weeks of care to heal fully, but most patients can remain active during that time. Anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain can help, and physical therapy as recommended by a pain specialist may speed healing. If the injury was sustained during sporting activities or training, a physical therapist may also recommend changing the workout regimen to accommodate the healing process.
Chronic or recurring plantar fasciitis responds to many of the same treatments as acute conditions brought on by injury. A physician may also recommend making lifestyle changes that reduce the strain placed on the feet. Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs, are generally effective for controlling flare-ups, but more severe cases may also necessitate treatment with corticosteroids such as cortisone. For those who deal with frequent, painful episodes of plantar fasciitis, immobilizing the affected foot in a brace or cast can help. Surgery is an option for those who seek a long-term solution to a chronic and painful condition.
The pain and stiffness of plantar fasciitis limits patients’ mobility after an injury or as part of a chronic condition. Rest, ice, support and NSAIDs are effective treatments for many people, but other patients need more aggressive therapy to recover from plantar fasciitis.