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Plantar Fasciitis: It’s Not From Gardening

By Alan Williams, PT, OTR/L, ATC, CSCS

Isn’t it pleasing to pull out an item of clothing you’ve kept from years ago and find that it still fits? “Look, honey! I wore this suit to your cousin’s wedding, and I still look good in it!” “Hey, I can still get into these shorts from our honeymoon cruise! I told you I didn’t eat too much!” “Wow, my old running shoes from college! Think I’ll take ‘em out for a jog…” Stop right there. While it makes sense, economically and environmentally, to get good use out of things you already own, continuing to wear old, worn-out shoes is an excellent way to put yourself at risk for injury.

Contrary to how it sounds, plantar fasciitis (pronounced “fasheeEYEtis”) is not caused by weeding your flower bed. Named for inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament, this condition develops when the plantar fascia (which runs along the bottom of the foot, alternately stretching and relaxing with every step) must absorb excessive or abnormal amounts of stress. This causes minute tears along the ligament and most often presents as sharp pain in the center of the heel. The pain is usually at its worst first thing in the morning, before the ligament has had a chance to loosen up from activity. Plantar fasciitis is rarely serious enough to warrant surgery, but it can easily become a chronic ailment if not treated early. Therefore, it’s worth learning how to prevent and treat this condition before it becomes serious enough to interrupt your day-to-day activities.

Fortunately, plantar fasciitis can almost always be prevented by taking a few simple steps. The foremost is by wearing comfortable shoes with adequate support for your foot type (be that flat foot, high arch, or normal arch). Choose shoes with good cushioning, flat bottoms or low to moderate heels, and use orthotics or other supportive inserts if needed. This is especially important with any shoes that you will be putting a lot of “miles” in, such as work or exercise shoes (as a general rule of thumb, replace athletic shoes every 500 miles). I know it’s difficult for many people to give up their high heels and flip flops, so if you show no signs of developing plantar fasciitis, you can probably still wear these shoes for short periods of time without increasing your risk. However, avoid doing a lot of standing and walking in them, especially on hard surfaces.

In addition to wearing proper shoes, avoid putting sudden increases in the amount of daily stress your plantar fascia endures. This cannot always be prevented (such as with the rapid weight gain of pregnancy), but be sure to gradually increase the time and amount of your weight bearing activities and the distances you walk or run. Also, maintaining a healthy body weight and eating a balanced, nutritious diet will help keep your body strong enough to prevent plantar fasciitis as well as other types of injuries.

If you should find yourself with the sharp heel pain of plantar fasciitis, don’t ignore it. Treating it right away promotes better healing and a shorter recovery time. Start by lessening the stress on your feet as much as possible – begin using orthotics if you don’t already, switch to low-impact exercises (like swimming, biking, using the elliptical machine, etc.), wear night splints, and employ ice, gentle stretching, and massage with your feet and calves. If the condition gets worse or just simply doesn’t improve, don’t hesitate to see your physical therapist. They will be able to give you recovery techniques specific to your needs, as well as address any issues of strength, balance, and improper gait that may be present.

The chance of injuring your plantar fascia is a sort of “cost of doing business” of being on your feet – the rewards far outweigh the risks. So go ahead and slip into that old track suit, but treat yourself to new walking shoes to help your feet stay healthy.

Don’t let foot pain hold you back. Call 463-0022 today for your FREE Foot Pain Assessment!