Have your mornings been starting off on the wrong, painful foot? Stabbing pain in your foot first thing in the morning wasn’t the wakeup call you were hoping for.
It’s not uncommon to have achy joints and muscles in the morning as you get older. However, if your first steps in the morning include shooting pains in the heel of your foot, you may be one of nearly 2 million people who suffer from plantar fasciitis each year.
Don’t let plantar fasciitis set you on the wrong path. Learn more about this common condition and ways you can treat it and prevent it from reoccurring.
What is plantar fasciitis?
“The source of this heel pain is degenerative tearing of a thick band of tissue that attaches the heel of your foot to your toes called the plantar fascia,” said L. Daniel Latt, MD, PhD, an orthopedic surgeon and foot and ankle specialist with Banner Health in Tucson, AZ. “When this band of tissue becomes overloaded and starts tearing, you develop plantar fasciitis.”
The plantar fascia is typically tough enough to handle everything we put our feet through, but sometimes it can’t handle all the stress, which leads to inflammation and pain on the bottom of your feet. It is common among runners and athletes but can also affect anyone who stands for long periods of time.
Other factors that can cause plantar fasciitis include:
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Wearing shoes with poor support or cushioning
- Having abnormally low (flat feet) or high arches
- Increasing physical activity too quickly
- Having tight calf muscles
“Typically, plantar fasciitis is caused by a tightness in your calf muscles,” Dr. Latt said. “When the calf muscles are too tight, the ankle can’t bend far enough. This strain goes into the attachment of the calf muscles onto the heel bone and then into the attachment from the heel bone into the plantar fascia.”
What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?
According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, typical symptoms of plantar fasciitis include:
- Foot pain on the bottom near your heel
- Pain for a few steps after getting up in the morning or after a long rest, which usually fades after walking a little while
- Greater foot pain after exercise—not during
How does plantar fasciitis differ from heel spurs?
A heel spur is a bone spur, or calcium deposit, which develops toward the back of the heel bone, near where the plantar fasciitis inserts. Heel spurs commonly occur in people with tight calf muscles, just like plantar fascia does. But heel spurs don’t cause heel pain the same way plantar fasciitis does.
“Many people can have heel spurs without any symptoms,” Dr. Latt said. “So, if you have pain on the bottom of the heel, plantar fasciitis is most likely to blame.”
How do you treat plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is painful and can be very annoying if you’re active. The good news is it’s easy to treat.
If you’re experiencing heel pain, your health care provider will examine your foot and may recommend an X-ray to rule out other causes of heel pain. Although plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, your provider will still want to rule out other causes such as Achilles tendonitis, heel spurs or stress fractures.
With a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis, your provider will typically start with nonsurgical treatment and at-home remedies. Surgery for plantar fasciitis is only used for severe cases that don’t respond to conservative treatment.
“We send patients to learn some simple calf and plantar fascia stretching exercises, give them a gel heel pad to help cushion the injured area, and a prescription for some anti-inflammatory medications,” Dr. Latt said. “And with that simple prescription, 90% of patients will get better in three to six months.”
Night splints, which keep the plantar fascia stretched out, can help when the pain is worse with the first step in the morning. If your shoes aren’t providing enough support in the right places, you may also want to consider over-the-counter shoe insoles, arch supports or heel cups. If these don’t do the trick, you can find a trained expert who can fit you for a custom orthotic.
How to prevent plantar fasciitis
The best cure for plantar fasciitis is prevention. Here are some steps you can take to help prevent plantar fasciitis from coming back.
- Wear the right shoes
- Consider supportive inserts, if necessary
- Lose weight
- Stay active with low-impact activities like walking, biking, swimming and yoga
- Stretch the foot and calf muscles daily
To stretch your calf muscles, do the following:
- Stand an arm’s length from a wall and put your hands on the wall.
- Place your left foot behind your right.
- Slowly bend your right knee while keeping your left leg straight and your right foot flat on the ground.
- Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds and repeat 3 times.
- Switch legs and repeat the process.
This simple stretch should be part of your warm-up routine to help prevent plantar fasciitis.
Give your feet the support they need
If you’ve lost that pep in your step due to heel pain, take action. Getting prompt treatment that gets to the root of your pain issues is crucial to getting relief.
For other feet-related articles, check out:
- Flip-Flop Season? Here’s Why They May Be a Total Flop
- How to Save Your Feet and Avoid High Heel Horrors
- Do Your Feet Under or Overpronate? Here’s How to Tell