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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

Battle Plantar Fasciitis and Restore Your Feet


The first hesitant steps in the morning. A searing stab heel with each footfall. A dull ache that lingers all day. These are the unwelcome realities of plantar fasciitis, a condition estimated to affect 2 million Americans annually, according to the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons.


As a physical therapist, I understand the frustration and the impact it can have on your daily life. In this guide, I not only aim to share my physical therapy tips and tricks but also delve into the latest research, offering a comprehensive approach to empower you in conquering this stubborn ailment and reclaim your pain-free stride.




bare feet on a wood floor

 

What is Plantar Fasciitis?


Picture a robust band of tissue extending from your heel to your toes, akin to a suspension bridge providing support to your arch. This is your plantar fascia, diligently absorbing the impact force with each step.


When subjected to excessive workload or stress, often attributed to factors such as prolonged standing, tight calves, or ill-fitting shoes, it may become irritated, leading to the condition known as Plantar Fasciitis. Current theories now recognize plantar fasciitis as a consequence of fascial degeneration and commonly refer to it as fasciosis rather than fasciitis. This shift in terminology underscores the role of degeneration rather than inflammation as the primary cause of injury.



anatomical drawing of plantar fascia

Warning Signs: Is it Plantar Fasciitis?


Tune in to the signals from your feet. Take note of those initial steps in the morning when plantar fasciitis is most pronounced, causing a sharp, stabbing pain in your heel that tends to ease gradually as you continue walking. As the day unfolds, this discomfort might transform into a persistent dull ache, turning even routine tasks such as grocery shopping into what feels like a marathon.


Other clues include pain radiating towards your arch or midfoot, increased pain after standing or sitting for extended periods or tenderness when you press on the bottom of your heel.


By tuning into these signals, you can take proactive steps to address your condition and start treatment as early as possible before the condition becomes chronic.


a woman rubbing her feet

Risk Factors for Plantar Fasciitis


Understanding what influences plantar fasciitis helps in both prevention and management. Let's explore key factors:


1. Foot Mechanics and Activity Level

Individuals between 40 and 60, especially those engaging in high-impact activities like running, are more susceptible. Additionally, flat feet, high arches, or abnormal gait can increase stress on the plantar fascia, making irritation more likely.

2. Obesity and Excess Weight

Carrying extra weight puts undue pressure on the feet, particularly the plantar fascia. This added stress increases the risk of injury and development of plantar fasciitis.

3. Occupational Factors

Jobs or activities involving prolonged standing, walking on hard surfaces, or wearing improper footwear like worn-out shoes, thin soles, or lack of arch support, can contribute to the onset of plantar fasciitis. Healthcare professionals or teachers may be at higher risk due to long hours on their feet.

4. Muscle Tightness and Imbalances

Tight calf muscles or Achilles tendons, and previous foot injuries, can increase strain on the plantar fascia and make individuals more susceptible to developing the condition.

5. Certain Medical Conditions

Conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or diabetes, which affect joints, tissues, or nerves, can put individuals at higher risk for plantar fasciitis. Managing these conditions is crucial for foot health.

6. Poor Footwear Choices

Wearing shoes with inadequate arch support, insufficient cushioning, or improper fit can contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis. High heels and shoes with inadequate shock absorption may exacerbate the condition.


By understanding these risk factors, you can take proactive steps to prevent plantar fasciitis. Wearing supportive shoes, stretching regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and addressing any underlying medical conditions can significantly reduce your risk of developing this painful condition.


A Guide to Recovery and Relief


Timely intervention and a proactive approach can pave the way for a swift recovery and a pain-free future. This guide empowers you with a diverse range of treatment options, allowing you to actively participate in your healing process and reclaim your active lifestyle. Remember, consistency is key as most treatments require at least 6 weeks of dedication.


1. Rest and Ice

  • Slow down: Let your hardworking plantar fascia take a well-deserved break. Reduce the intensity of your activities, opting for low-impact alternatives like swimming, cycling, or elliptical training.

  • Chill out: Apply ice packs wrapped in a towel to the sore area for 15-20 minutes, several times a day. This can help reduce inflammation and pain.

2. Stretching and Massage

  • Embrace flexibility: Gentle stretches for your plantar fascia, calves and Achilles can improve flexibility and reduce pain. Utilize a yoga strap or the wall to target your stretches effectively.

  • Release the tension: Befriend a tennis ball or massage tool! Rolling your foot over these can help break up tension and promote healing.

  • The dosage for calf stretching can be either 3 times a day or 2 times a day utilizing either a sustained (3 minutes) or intermittent (20 seconds) stretching time, as neither dosage produced a better effect in studies.

treatment options for plantar fasciitis

3. Night Splints

  • Sleep tight, pain-free: These overnight splints gently stretch your foot while you slumber, ensuring your plantar fascia wakes up feeling refreshed and ready to go.

4. Supportive Footwear and Orthotics

  • Ditch the flip-flops: Invest in well-cushioned, supportive shoes with good arch support. Your plantar fascia needs the extra cushion and support to absorb shock and prevent further strain.

  • Invest in orthotics: Both prefabricated and custom foot orthoses can offer a short-term (3 months) reduction in pain and improvement in function. No significant differences have been observed in the extent of pain reduction or functional improvement between custom foot orthoses and prefabricated orthoses.

5. Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers

  • Temporary relief: Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen can offer temporary relief from the pain. Always follow dosage instructions and consult your doctor for potential interactions with other medications.


Bonus Tips for a Holistic Approach:

  • Physical therapy: Consider personalized stretching and strengthening exercises guided by a physical therapist. They can tailor a program to your specific needs and ensure proper form.

  • Alternative therapies: Explore options like acupuncture or ultrasound therapy, which can provide additional pain relief and promote healing.

  • Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight reduces stress on your feet, contributing to faster recovery and preventing future flare-ups.

  • Listen to your body: Be mindful of activities that aggravate the pain and adjust your routine accordingly. This could mean taking shorter walks, using supportive insoles, or taking more rest days.


While individual responses vary, combining these treatments often yields the best results. Don't hesitate to consult your doctor to determine the most effective approach for your unique case. 


treatment options for plantar fasciitis



Your Rehab Roadmap


When the burning in your heel starts to soften, it's time to carefully navigate your path back to movement. Here's your guide to reintroducing activity with confidence:


1. Start Low, Go Slow

  • Begin with gentle exercises like walking on flat, even surfaces.

  • Gradually increase the distance and duration of your walks as your pain allows.

  • Listen to your body's cues and celebrate every milestone, no matter how small.

2. Strengthen Your Foundation

  • Build muscle strength in your feet, ankles, and calves with targeted exercises like marble toe pick-ups, single-leg calf raises and towel curls.

  • Remember, a strong foundation is key to a stable and pain-free stride.

3. Progressively Increase the Challenge

  • As you gain strength, incorporate low-impact activities with moderate intensity, such as, elliptical training, stationary biking, aqua jogging.

  • Focus on progress, not perfection. Every step forward is a victory.

4. Listen to Your Body

  • Every foot has a story to tell. If pain resurfaces, take a step back and reassess your activity level.

  • Don't push through discomfort. Respect your body's signals and adjust accordingly.


Bonus Tips for Speedy Recovery

  • Fuel Your Healing: Choose anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation and promote tissue repair.

  • Prep for Success: Before and after any activity, warm up with dynamic stretches and light cardio to prepare your feet and prevent pain. Cool down with gentle stretches to help your tissues recover.

  • Seek Expert Guidance: If pain persists or worsens, don't hesitate to consult a doctor or physical therapist. They can diagnose your specific case, identify any underlying conditions, and create a personalized rehab plan to accelerate your healing journey. Early intervention is key to a faster recovery and prevention of complications.


Just Because...


The journey toward overcoming plantar fasciitis is undoubtedly challenging, but combining the insights shared in this guide you are equipped with a powerful toolkit to navigate the path toward recovery. As a physical therapist, my goal is to empower you to not only manage the frustrations and limitations imposed by plantar fasciitis but also to emerge stronger and more resilient.


Remember, each step forward is a victory, and with persistence, dedication, and the knowledge gained here, you can triumph over this stubborn ailment. May your journey be filled with progress, comfort, and the joy of a renewed and pain-free stride.



REFERENCES


Boob MA Jr, Phansopkar P, Somaiya KJ. Physiotherapeutic Interventions for Individuals Suffering From Plantar Fasciitis: A Systematic Review. Cureus. 2023 Jul 31;15(7):e42740. doi: 10.7759/cureus.42740. PMID: 37654968; PMCID: PMC10467524.


Petraglia F, Ramazzina I, Costantino C. Plantar fasciitis in athletes: diagnostic and treatment strategies. A systematic review. Muscles Ligaments Tendons J. 2017 May 10;7(1):107-118. doi: 10.11138/mltj/2017.7.1.107. PMID: 28717618; PMCID: PMC5505577.o


Thomas G. McPoil, PT, PhD, RobRoy L. Martin, PT, PhD, et al. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. Published Online:April 1, 2008Volume38Issue4PagesA1-A18

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