Think of the last time you stepped on something sharp. It probably hurt and may have made you limp for a little while afterward. Now imagine if your heel had that same sharp pain any time you stood up in the morning, after sitting for a few hours, or spending too long on your feet. That is roughly the problem anyone struggling with plantar fasciitis has to live with every day.
Irritated Heel Ligaments
Plantar fasciitis is a heel pain problem that develops when the tough band of tissue that stretches from the toes and attaches to the heel bone, called the plantar fascia, becomes irritated and inflamed. This band of tissue is an important structure in your lower limbs. It helps your arch hold its shape and stretches slightly when you step to help you absorb shock. This, of course, means that it is subjected to significant amounts of stress whenever you stand and walk around.
Over time, this can take a toll on the plantar fascia. Overuse aggravates the tissue and irritates it. Biomechanical issues like flat feet or unusually high arches can stress it as well. Slowly the tissue swells, thickens, and becomes inflamed, creating an increasing pain in your heel. The discomfort can also spread forward into your arch. Usually the pain is at its worst after a period time off your feet, like a night’s sleep or sitting for a while. The plantar fascia swells and tightens while you rest. Then, when you try to stand up again, the tissue is forced to suddenly stretch, creating micro-tears in the fascia band.
Know Your Risks
Plantar fasciitis is a progressive condition that affects thousands of people every year. It can develop in anyone, though people with flat feet, high arches, or who spend a lot of time standing at work are particularly at risk. It only becomes more likely the older you get, too. Age can weaken your foot mechanics, and you’re more likely to gain weight that will strain your lower limbs. Particular types of exercise also increase your chances for overworking the plantar fascia, like running long distances and dancing. The wrong shoes can contribute to the problem, too.
The good news is that there are ways to take care of this condition. It is hard to manage, but the sooner you deal with it, the easier it is to treat. In most cases, conservative remedies are enough to alleviate the discomfort and let you continue your activities. Ignoring the pain, on the other hand, simply gives it time to become chronic and very difficult to manage.
Eliminating the Heel Pain
Dr. Robert Parker and our staff will examine your feet carefully to provide an accurate diagnosis for your condition. There are many different causes of heel pain, and although plantar fasciitis is the most common, knowing the specific cause ensures you receive the correct, targeted treatment. Occasionally we may need X-rays or other diagnostic images as part of the evaluation. Once we have identified the condition, we’ll begin your therapy.
Relaxing the swollen, tightened plantar fascia band is a key part of relieving the discomfort. Physical therapy can help with this. Stretch out the tissues connected to the heel throughout the day. An ice massage on the bottom of the heel may help as well, since it reduces inflammation. You may need to take a reprieve from hard impact activities that aggravate your heel so that it can recover. You might need to change your shoes as well. Wear styles with cushioned soles and plenty of support through the arches. If shoes are not enough, you may need orthotics to correct biomechanical issues in your feet. For persistent, chronic heel pain, we may recommend medications or even direct injections. Only rarely does someone need surgery to manage the pain.
The sooner you take care of the pain in your heel, the sooner you’ll start feeling better—and the less likely you’ll develop complications or long-term discomfort. Don’t wait! Our expert staff at Parker Foot & Ankle can help get your feet back to feeling normal. Call our Houston office at (281) 497-2850 to make an appointment with us.