Once known as “policeman’s heel,” plantar fasciitis (fashee-EYE-tiss) is an increasingly common affliction that pesters a wide range of people besides those in law enforcement.
The painful condition is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, a tough, thick band of tissue that connects your heel bone to the base of your toes. The good news is that plantar fasciitis is preventable and that it can be treated effectively in many simple ways.
Who gets it
Any activity that places repetitive or excessive stress on the plantar fascia can lead to plantar fasciitis. You’re more likely to develop the condition if you’re a woman, if you’re overweight, or if you have a job that requires a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces.
Heredity can be a factor, and your body weight plays a big part in it.
Environmental factors come into play too. Our feet were made to be in sand, grass and dirt rather than the hard wood floors and tile surfaces we walk on today. And we all know women’s shoes weren’t necessarily designed for comfort–especially higher-heeled shoes.
The warning signs for plantar fasciitis condition are easy to spot, say physicians: Pain in the heel with the first step in the morning, when you get out of bed, is the classic symptom for plantar fasciitis. Once your foot limbers up, the pain generally decreases but can return after lengthy periods of standing or after getting up from a seated position.
There are a number of things you can do to prevent plantar fasciitis. One of the most important is maintaining a healthy weight in order to reduce tension on this ligament. Shoes play an important role also–they should fit well and provide cushioning and support to the heel, arch and ball of the foot. If your work involves standing on hard concrete floors for prolonged periods of time or if you exercise regularly, invest in a pair of custom-made orthotics made by a podiatrist. Stretching the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia is also essential to prevent and treat the symptoms.
A common problem
Researchers say plantar fasciitis is becoming more common, particularly among middle-aged women. In many of these cases, the problem stems from overloaded feet: The fibers in the tissue break down, the blood supply decreases, and the heel stiffens and all of these factors are accentuated as you get older.
If you wear high heels, they have a mechanical effect on the body, and the higher the heel, the greater the effect on the Achilles tendon and your back. This is because high heels keep your foot in the neutral position, so you’re never stretching your Achilles the way you normally do with regular shoes.
If you don’t treat plantar fasciitis, it can become a chronic condition that leads to other knee, hip and back problems because the pain may force you to change the way you walk. But luckily, your physician can recommend a number of easy treatment options, including:
- Rest and keep off the foot until the inflammation goes away.
- Use ice for 20 minutes, three to four times a day, to reduce pain and swelling.
- Stretch the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia.
- Add arch supports and/or heel lifts to your shoes.
- Avoid open-back shoes, sandals and flip-flops.
- Try over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen to relieve pain.
In the worst cases, you may need cortisone injections or surgery on the ligament. Fortunately, about 90 percent of people with the condition improve significantly after just a few months of treatment.