If you’re experiencing pain in the heel of your foot, the cause may be due to a torn or inflamed plantar fascia – the thin layer of skin that connects your heel with the front of your foot. The medical condition for this common complaint is known as plantar fasciitis.
In general, heel pain is nothing to worry about. It is a common problem and affects more than 50% of Americans at some stage in their life. It typically occurs from repetitive impact or continuous pressure on the soles of the feet. For example, standing or walking for prolonged periods can cause the plantar fascia to swell up.
Ligament damage to the heel is most common in runners or people that spend a lot of time on their feet. Factory workers and shop assistants are particularly prone to heel pain. If you do have plantar fasciitis, the pain is the worst first thing in the morning when you get out of bed. You will also notice it during the day after taking periods of rest. Getting back on your feet can be a little sore.
- Important: The good news is plantar fasciitis is easily treated. However, if it’s left unattended, that tingling sensation and soreness you feel in your heel WILL get worse over time. The majority of people that do have problems with sore heels will overcome the pain after a reasonable period of rest. However, severe cases are persistent and recovery time can take much longer.
In this guide, we will examine the causes of plantar fasciitis, the people who are most susceptible to heel pain and what you can do to alleviate the problem. We will discuss home remedies, medical care and what you can do to prevent plantar fasciitis.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?
- 2 How to Recover from Plantar Fasciitis Faster
- 2.1 What Are the Other Home Treatments?
- 2.2 Exercises that Help to Ease Plantar Fasciitis Pain
- 2.3 Severe Plantar Fasciitis Treatment
- 2.4 Is There Footwear to Help Plantar Fasciitis?
- 2.5 Will a Foot Massage Be Beneficial?
- 2.6 Read Our Latest Posts:
What Are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?
It is essentially a swelling of the tissue that fans out from your heel to the ball of your foot.
People that develop the condition will ordinarily feel an aching pain on the heel pad. You may also feel pain in your foot arches when you apply pressure on the soles of your feet or bend your toes.
The pain is the worst first thing in a morning. After you relax your feet and the plantar fascia becomes relaxed, it also becomes more sensitive to pressure. The first steps you take getting out of bed in a morning are the most painful.
You will also feel the pain throughout the day. This is certainly the case for people that sit down most of the time. Because you are easing the pressure on your feet, you will notice the pain again when you stand and reapply weight on your heel.
The degree of pain caused by plantar fasciitis will depend on the severity. Most people experience aching. This can be quite painful to put weight on. When the tissue is severely damaged, you may also sense moderate burning or piercing stabs.
Who is Most at Risk of Developing Plantar Fasciitis?
It is a common complaint, and for some people can be a persistent repetitive strain injury. High-risk sufferers are people that engage in sports that impact the heel; runners, long-distance hikers, court sports, aerobics, and mountain climbing.
Jobs that involve prolonged periods of standing can also cause the plantar fascia to flare up. Dancers are also susceptible.
The risk of developing plantar fasciitis is more common in adults that:
- Older – the ligaments in the feet weaken as you get older
- Regularly engage in high-impact sports such as aerobics, gymnastics, tennis, running, football etc
- Have a gait that stresses the heel bone
- Pregnant women – carrying extra weight can apply pressure to your feet
- Tourists – an increase in walking has an impact on your heels
- People that are overweight
- People with flat feet or high arches
Will Plantar Fasciitis Go Away?
If you do develop a stabbing pain in your heel, don’t be discouraged. Experts say plantar fasciitis does heal itself. However, there are simple steps you should adopt to aid recovery. If the problem persists you should seek medication to help ease the pain.
The healing process for plantar fasciitis can take some time. People typically suffer from heel pain for at least six months. The condition can take 12 to 18 months to completely heal depending on the severity.
However, you may not experience the same level of pain every day. How you manage the pressure on your feet, posture, and exposure to hard surfaces counts. Resting your feet as much as possible is the best way to heal your heels.
- Pro Tip: The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends wearing footwear with sufficient support to cushion the soles of your feet and heel pads. Alternatively, put cushioned inserts in your existing shoes to create more protection.
How to Recover from Plantar Fasciitis Faster
The healing process will take six to 12 months – if managed properly. However, for general cases, the pain can be reduced much quicker even if the condition persists for longer.
Below are a few things you can do to help speed up recovery time:
- Rest – the best way to speed up recovery is to keep the weight off your feet. Be mindful of how you are using your feet, especially once the swelling goes down and your feet feel restored to normal; they probably aren’t fully recovered even though the pain has subsided.
- Ice pack – helps to reduce inflammation and numb the pain. When you first feel heel pain make an ice pack 3 or 4 times a day and use for 20 minutes at a time. To make an ice pack either wrap ice or a bag of frozen peas in a towel or pour ice blocks into a bowl of cold water.
- Wearing appropriate footwear – invest in shoes that have cushioned inserts and thick, shock-absorbing rubber soles. If you play sports put supportive insteps in your sneakers or boots.
- Try not to overuse your feet – if your day involves a lot of standing, try to find solutions that enable you to do your job sitting down or ask your boss for regular breaks to ease the pressure on your feet.
- Stop running – quitting exercise that shocks your feet for a while relieves the pressure on your heel ligaments and gives them time to recover. When you’re ready to return to your regular exercise routine, try to adopt a technique that does not abuse your feet. Some people are naturally heavy-footed which contributes to sore heels.
- Change sports – if you notice the pain in your feet is worse after exercising you have a difficult decision to make. The sensible choice is to adopt a sport that does not impact on your feet such as swimming.
Ignoring the issue that causes plantar fasciitis undermines your enjoyment of your fitness routines and prolongs the suffering. But there are effective ways you can manage plantar fasciitis and help speed up the recovery process.
What Are the Other Home Treatments?
In addition to the above, there are other treatments you can do from home to help ease the pain of plantar fasciitis. According to various health studies and medical practitioners, the following applications help treat heel pain:
- Lavender oil – studies show essential lavender oils contain anti-inflammatory properties. However, tests are still in the early stages and more research is required to understand if lavender oils can help treat plantar fasciitis
- Night splints – doctors recommend patients with severe heel pain to wear night splints. The splints help relieve pain by stretching out your foot arches and calves
- Massage – a foot massage helps to relieve the stress in your feet and will temporarily relieve some of the pain caused by plantar fasciitis. Professional massages every day are not necessary though; working the arch of your foot and heel with a tennis ball works just as well.
- Lose weight – those extra pounds also add unwanted weight the ligaments in your feet can cope with. Fighting the flab with a balanced diet and sensible exercise will also help fight the soreness in your feet.
Exercises that Help to Ease Plantar Fasciitis Pain
Medical researchers have linked taut calf muscles and tight achilles tendons with plantar fasciitis. Whilst these are not a direct cause, they do aggravate the condition. Stretching exercises can help.
The best stretching exercises for plantar fasciitis manipulate the gastrocnemius and soleus muscles – upper and lower calf muscles.
Below are some useful stretching exercises recommended by personal trainers:
- Lean against a wall with the palm of your hands
- Position your body at an angle
- Place one foot behind the other
- Slowly bend your front knee forward
- Keep your back leg straight so you feel a stretch in your calf
- Hold the position for 15-20 seconds
- If the tension is too painful to release the pressure slightly
- Relax the back leg for a moment then repeat the stretch
- Perform this exercise five times on the back leg, then switch feet
Plantar Fascia Exercises
- Freeze a bottle of water
- Sit in a chair with the bottle on the ground
- Place your heel on the bottle and roll your foot back and forth on to the bottle
- Repeat this exercise for 5-10 minutes
Big Toe Stretch
- Sit cross-legged and grab your big toe.
- Pull your toe towards you gently and hold for 30 seconds
- Repeat the stretch as much as you like then switch feet
- From your seated position, use a folded towel as a strap under the arch of your foot.
- Hold the towel with both hands and pull on the towel towards you
- In the other direction, press your foot into the towel and hold for about 30 seconds
- Repeat this exercise as much as you like
- Change feet
Severe Plantar Fasciitis Treatment
If you suffer from chronic heal pain and have tried home remedies without success, you have severe plantar fasciitis. In these circumstances, you should consult a doctor for medical treatment.
Doctors do not have many options for treating plantar fasciitis but the ones that are available are mostly successful.
Typical treatments are as follows:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs – reduce inflammation and help to relieve the aching and soreness. A typical course of pharmaceuticals involves several doses a day for 3 or 4 weeks. Depending on the severity, maybe longer.
- Steroid injection – patients that do not respond to anti-inflammatory drugs will usually be given the option of steroid injections. This involves inserting a needle into the most painful area of the plantar fascia. Steroids reduce the swelling and will ease the pain for about a month.
- Shock-wave therapy – a procedure that uses sound waves to shock the plantar fascia and stimulate blood flow. The treatment stuns the nerves, stops the pain and helps tissue to heal.
- Tenex procedure – the Tenex procedure uses an ultra-sound to identify which areas of the feet have damaged scar tissue. Surgeons will then make a small incision in your foot and remove the tissue. The procedure takes around 15 minutes. There will be some swelling but recovery time is typically around two weeks.
- Plantar fasciitis surgery – a small percentage of complaints about plantar fasciitis require surgery. It is usually referred as the last resort if patients do not respond to conservative treatments. The procedure involves removing the plantar fascia from the heel bone. Patients are usually allowed to go home the same day as surgery but have to wear a splint and not put weight on your foot for a time specified by your doctor.
How Quickly Will I Recover from Surgery?
Plantar fasciitis surgery is quite rare. Only around 5% of Americans that suffer from plantar fasciitis will resort to surgery. Most surgery patients are athletes that want a fast and effective remedy because the pain in the heel pads is negatively affecting their performance.
Before a patient undergoes surgery for plantar fasciitis, certain criteria have to be met:
- The condition must have been persistent for 9-12 months
- Stretching exercises must have been tried during this period
- The pain is severe
- Non-surgical treatments have not worked
Surgery to remove the plantar fasciitis usually involves open surgery. The orthopedic surgeon will cut away the skin ligament from your heel to relieve the tension in your foot. If a heel spur has developed due to the plantar fasciitis, doctors will remove it along with the other damaged tissue.
Patients that undergo plantar fascia release surgery should expect to be out-of-action for a while. For the first 2 weeks, you will need to wear a cast or brace to limit the weight on your foot.
Recovery time usually takes around 6-10 weeks before you can walk comfortably. Doctors typically recommend you refrain from vigorous activity for three months.
How About Endoscopic Surgery?
This involves locating damaged tissue and feeding an instrument through an incision to remove it. The recovery time is much faster than open surgery – about 3-6 weeks – but there is also more risk of something going wrong.
In some cases, surgeons refuse to perform Endoscopic surgery to treat plantar fasciitis. Severe complications can inhibit full recovery. As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection, especially if the wound is not regularly and properly cleaned post-surgery.
There is also a slight possibility the heel arch will be damaged if the plantar fascia is released too much. The consequences of this could mean that one leg is lower than the other which will cause a gait and an imbalance of weight on the hips and spine.
The other risk could be damage to the nerves around the plantar fascia. This will cause you to feel numbness in your feet which will inhibit your walking and, potentially impede your performance during sports activities.
The good news is that experts say that most cases of plantar fasciitis do not require surgery. If the correct procedures and recommendations are followed properly the other treatments are usually successful.
Is There Footwear to Help Plantar Fasciitis?
Appropriate footwear will reduce the risk of getting plantar fasciitis. If prevention is already too late for you, adding cushioned inserts into your shoe or investing in footwear with resistant padding will help facilitate recovery.
- Important: If your lifestyle puts you at risk of developing plantar fasciitis, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons recommends wearing footwear that provides adequate support for your heels, metatarsal and foot arches.
People that suffer from chronic plantar fasciitis may want to consider specially crafted orthopedic shoes. This type of footwear doesn’t make any fashion statements but are fitted with a compressed heel and inserts that provide extra protection in relevant areas.
You can also ease the pain first thing in a morning with a pair of soft, cushioned slippers or flip-flops. Soft woolen socks can also help to relieve pressure on the heel and metatarsal.
People that have low foot arches generally have a limited capacity to absorb the impact of slamming your foot into a hard surface. If you have flat feet but enjoy playing sports or dancing, invest in over-the-counter arch corrections such as arch supports or custom orthotics.
You may also want to try arch tapes. They are less expensive than other arch corrections but tend to be less effective. However, studies show they can significantly limit the impact on you plantar fasciitis for around 25 minutes which helps to prevent stress on the heel.
If you already suffer from plantar fasciitis and looking for ways to relieve the pain, arch tapes are an inexpensive experiment to determine whether it is worth investing in better quality arch corrections.
Over-the-counter arch supports are ideal for athletes that have recently developed plantar fasciitis. They provide protection for the heel and sole, but the effectiveness varies based on the material that’s used. Soft but dense materials like polypropylene work best.
The initial outlay for custom orthotics is more expensive but last longer, typically several seasons. Over-the-counter arch supports need replacing every few months if you train regularly.
Orthotics are also specifically molded into the construct of your foot to provide the right support where it is needed without any flexibility or added stress. The biomechanical control also reduces the risk of developing other complaints such as pes planus, valgus heel alignment, and unequal leg length.
On rare occasions, physicians may suggest heel cups to treat plantar fasciitis. Heel cups elevate the heel which helps to decrease tension on the plantar fascia.
Will a Foot Massage Be Beneficial?
A study group concluded a deep tissue massage on the foot and calves can help to alleviate heel pain. Massage helps to stretch the plantar fascia and loosen tight muscles around the heel. Tautness in the calves is thought to aggravate plantar fasciitis.
More research is needed into how effective non-clinical treatments are for treating plantar fasciitis. However, relevant studies, together with the experience of physicians, we are finding better ways to treat this common foot complaint.