One of the most common foot-related problems among adults between 40 and 60-years old is plantar fasciitis. If you’ve been experiencing serious heel pain, start to pay attention to when it occurs. Plantar fasciitis tends to flare up first thing in the morning when you step out of bed.
Plantar fasciitis can be incredibly painful and occurs when the plantar fascia, the ligament that connects your heel bone to your toes and supports your foot’s arch, becomes inflamed.
Plantar fasciitis symptoms include feeling a sharp pain in your heel and along the arch of the foot. The painful condition usually flares up and feels the worst first thing in the morning when getting out of bed and taking your first steps. The pain should improve during the day as you walk and warm up your feet, but may flare up again in the evening.
What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?
Your plantar fascia works as a shock absorber for your feet when you walk, run or jump. After a while, if there’s stress and tension on that shock absorber from tight muscles, extra weight or over training, small tears can occur. These small tears lead to the inflammation and pain.
Plantar fasciitis can happen for a variety of reasons. While the causes of plantar fasciitis are not completely understood, foot muscle weakness is thought to play a major role. If you’re physically active, it could be a symptom of over training. If you notice heel pain after a sudden change in your workout routine, back off a little to see if the pain improves. You could also be more at risk because of the shape of your foot (i.e., flat foot or an especially high arch). Your shoe choice could also contribute to developing plantar fasciitis. If you typically wear heels to work, consider giving your feet a break with flats a few days a week.
5 Home Remedies for Plantar Fasciitis
Recovery from plantar fasciitis can typically take anywhere from 6 to 18 months. But when it’s caught and managed early on, conservative therapies like these five home remedies have a greater chance of success.
1. Wear the Right Shoes
If you’re a runner or walker, make sure your shoes have excellent arch support. Make sure to ask your local running store about shoes for plantar fasciitis. And it’s not just your workout shoes that need to be supportive. You should always wear shoes that have strong arch support.
Make sure you’re stretching your plantar fascia and Achilles’ tendon throughout the day. An easy stretch to try is to stand on a stair while allowing your heels to hang off the edge, stretching the back of your calf. Guidelines from the Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy recommend calf stretching to manage plantar fasciitis pain. These stretches are usually recommended for 2 to 4 months and can range from 20 seconds to 3 minutes long. In a recent study on plantar fasciitis, 29% of patients reported stretching to be the most effective pain management strategy.
3. Massage Your Feet
Because getting out of bed in the morning is usually the most painful time for you heel, try gently massaging your foot first thing in the morning. This can loosen up the plantar fascia, helping relieve some of that initial pain. Using your hands, massage the area on your foot between the arch and the heel. You could also grab a tennis or trigger point ball and massage your entire foot, focusing on the heel and arch.
4. Ice the Area
Because the pain in plantar fasciitis comes from inflammation, ice can be helpful. Try resting your foot in an ice bath in the morning or evening. To incorporate some gentle massage, freeze a water bottle and use it to massage your arch. Place the frozen bottle on the ground and roll your foot over the top of it, back and forth.
5. Foam Roll
Having tight calf muscles puts you at risk for plantar fasciitis, because this tightness changes the way you walk. Tight calves make it difficult to flex your foot when you take a step, causing you to put more stress on the plantar fascia. A great way to loosen up your muscles is by using a foam roller to relieve tight muscles.
5 Medical Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis
Failing relief from at-home remedies, it may be time to see a doctor. A doctor will examine your foot to determine where the pain is located and when it’s at its worst. This will then help the doctor identify the cause of the pain and develop a treatment plan that may include the following:
Your doctor can prescribe orthotic shoes, either bought from a store or specially made to help evenly distribute your weight on your entire foot. Don’t worry about spending a lot of money on custom orthotics. Studies don’t show a big difference in pain control between custom or pre-made orthotics. Try the store bought shoe first and see how you’re feeling in a couple months.
2. Physical Therapy
If an at-home stretching program isn’t helping with the pain, your doctor may recommend physical therapy. A physical therapist will work with you to not only stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles’ tendon, but will also help you develop a strengthening program. Having strong lower leg muscles will help stabilize your ankle and foot, helping prevent plantar fasciitis in the future.
3. Night Splints
If you’ve been in pain for more than six months, your physician or physical therapist may recommend wearing splints while you sleep. The pain from plantar fasciitis usually flares up and feels the worst first thing in the morning because your muscles haven’t been stretched all night. When you get out of bed and extend your Achilles’ tendon for the first time, you feel the shooting pain in your heel. A night splint will hold your plantar fascia and Achilles’ tendon in a lengthened position, stretching your foot throughout the night.
Pain medications like Ibuprofen or Naproxen (Aleve) can relieve the pain caused by the inflammation. Talk with your doctor about a schedule for pain medications and watch out for side effects such as stomach pain.
Injecting a steroid into the painful area can provide some temporary relief. Your physician may discuss this treatment if other more measures haven’t worked. However, too many injections can weaken your plantar fascia over time and even put you at risk for a plantar fascia rupture.
How to Prevent Plantar Fasciitis
Small tweaks to your lifestyle can prevent plantar fasciitis from returning. Maintain a healthy weight to take any unnecessary stress off your feet. If you’re very physically active, make sure to replace your running shoes every 400 to 500 miles so your shoes have enough support and cushioning. Also, change up your workouts from time to time by trying low-impact activities like cycling, swimming, water aerobics, yoga or tai chi.