If your foot hurts every morning with your first steps of the day, or the first mile of your long run is crazy-painful, you might be dealing with a common (yet frustrating) condition that threatens to sideline millions of everyday walkers and athletes each year.
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the band of tissue connecting your heel to your toes becomes inflamed. The pain is typically sharp and stabbing, and may decrease once you get moving throughout the day—but it comes back after periods of rest.
The condition is the most common cause of chronic heel pain, and 11 to 15 percent of orthopedic foot complaints stem from plantar fasciitis. Robert Duggan, DPM, a foot and ankle surgeon at Orlando Health, says he can diagnose 10 patients a day suffering from the issue. “We see complaints among distance runners, athletes doing hill work, those who have been making intensity or stride changes like training on steps,” he says.
You’ll typically know you’ve got plantar fasciitis, because your pain will arise on the bottom of the foot “where the band of tissue anchors to the inside of the heel,” says Duggan. If you can’t bear any weight at all, you’re an athlete who wants to get back to training right away, or you’re experiencing tenderness over the bone, get it checked out by a physician. Otherwise, you may be able to rehab this common condition yourself. Here’s how to do it.
Anti-Inflammatories, Ice, and Stretching for Foot Pain
At the first hints of potential plantar fasciitis, Duggan says you have a limited window for quick healing. You can take anti-inflammatories like Motrin to help with the pain. You can also try a therapy ball to roll out your foot, or a frozen water bottle to ice your heel and stretch your calf muscles. “Sometimes, tightness in the calf is creating or contributing to the pain in your heel,” says Duggan. “Start with this exercise, which is non-weight-bearing, at first.”
Identify the Source of Your Foot Pain
If it’s a new issue, look at any new changes to your fitness routine. If you’re trying to increase your step goal or improve your mile time, you may need to lay off for a while. If you’ve been adding jumps to your regimen, you should cut them out until the pain subsides. If you just changed shoes, they may not be supportive enough for your foot. “Changing intensity is often a contributor to plantar fasciitis,” Duggan says. “If you go from using an elliptical during the winter to ground work during the spring, your foot may not be used to the uncontrolled, uneven movements.” Make sure changes are gradual, and build in intensity.
See a Doctor About Your Foot Pain
If you’ve addressed the potential sources of your foot pain, as well as rested, iced, and taken NSAIDs for several days, you may want to see a doctor. (Athletes and daily exercisers who don’t want to wait to get back to their routine may also want to see a foot and ankle surgeon.) Your doc may prescribe steroid injections to relieve acute pain, or extracorporeal shock wave therapy to stimulate tissue healing. Duggan says there’s a short window of time to address plantar fasciitis before it turns “from acute to chronic and degenerative,” which is why it’s smart to involve a doc if your pain doesn’t get better quickly.
Duggan says the good news is that plantar fasciitis should get better with the right changes and treatments. “Only a small number of people don’t recover completely,” he says. If your pain persists after the heel inflammation should be on the mend, and isn’t 50 percent better in about two weeks, there may be an underlying condition requiring further evaluation. “It may be tarsal tunnel or a stress fracture to the foot,” Duggan says. “That’s why it’s important to figure out the tissues involved, so we can treat you effectively.”
If the pain persists or you’re in doubt, see a doc and ask more questions.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.