Got Heel Pain? Plantar Fasciitis Explained

diagram of foot showing plantar fasciitis and heel painAre you suffering from plantar fasciitis? If you have painful heels then you may be suffering from this common problem with your feet. Here, we explore the symptoms and causes of one of the most common foot conditions of today.

Are you experiencing a painful burning sensation in your heel (or heels)?

  • Do you notice discomfort and stiffness in your heel when you get out of bed in the morning, or after you’ve been sitting down for a long period of time?
  • Do you struggle with a stab-like pain in your heels when you stand or walk for hours on end?
  • Do you find it difficult to raise your toes when your foot is placed flat on the floor?

If you’ve answered yes to all the above questions, you could be suffering from plantar fasciitis.

What is plantar fasciitis, and why do I have it?

Plantar fasciitis – which is sometimes referred to as Policeman’s Heel – occurs when the thick, tight band of tissue that runs from your toes to your heel bone thickens and becomes irritated. This tissue is known as the plantar fascia, hence the name!

The plantar fascia can be damaged or irritated by lots of things. Though it’s designed to be a natural shock absorber, it can often thicken when it’s subjected to a lot of stress. This is why plantar fasciitis is particularly common in people who are overweight or obese; their extra weight will be placing a lot of strain on the heel and arch of the foot.

The condition will often be found in people aged 40-60. However, it can in fact strike individuals of any age who display a range of risk factors.

For example, sports players and regular exercisers, and specifically runners and joggers, are most susceptible to developing plantar fasciitis, as they regularly place pressure on their lower limbs. Those who are on their feet all day as part of their job will often complain of soreness in their heels. Pregnant women will often experience plantar fasciitis for the first time when they’re carrying their baby, too.

How can I combat the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?

If the pain associated with Policeman’s Heel is driving you up the wall, don’t worry – there are plenty of things you can do to lessen the symptoms and get back to living an active life again.

If the pain is noticeable but relatively mild, over-the-counter painkillers will help to take your mind off the discomfort. However, this is only a short-term measure; it’s only masking the problem, not preventing it from getting worse.

Applying an ice pack to the heel for 20 minutes several times a day may reduce the swelling, and, of course, limiting the amount of time spent on your feet will help to keep the soreness at bay.

Orthotic insoles are also highly effective at lessening the symptoms of plantar fasciitis. Customisable inserts can be slotted into almost any type of footwear to provide extra support to the foot arch and reduce the strain on the area.

What if these treatments aren’t helping?

If your pain is more pronounced, and the condition is starting to affect your every day life, it could be time to seek medical help.

Initially, your GP may suggest corticosteroid injections. The drug will be delivered directly to the damaged section of the ligament, and will help to ease your pain for a few weeks.

Physical therapy is also an option for those who want to combat the symptoms of plantar fasciitis in the longer term. A physiotherapist will be able to teach you plenty of handy exercises that will gently stretch and strengthen your plantar fascia, your Achilles tendon, and your lower leg muscles (because, of course, all these areas are interlinked).

If these measures aren’t as effective as you’d hoped, shock-wave therapy can be used to help heal the tissue – or, in rarer cases, surgery to remove the plantar fascia from the heel bone may be an option, however, this comes with its own risks and is the last resort.

Take simple steps now to alleviate your symptoms

It’s true that some people need to explore some of the more extreme treatment methods listed above in order to get relief from their plantar fasciitis symptoms.

But in our experience, some simple adjustments to your lifestyle, combined with a few days’ rest, should bring the discomfort down to a manageable level. Wearing supportive orthotic insoles in all your shoes will certainly help to reduce the stress and strain placed on your feet throughout the day, too, and will prevent the condition from worsening over time.

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