Plantar Fasciitis: What Is It, And How Is It Treated?

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Have you noticed your heel hurting after your daily run? Is the pain worse in the morning? If so, you may have plantar fasciitis.

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is a common complaint amongst runners. Along the bottom of your foot, there is a thick band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes. This band is called the plantar fascia, and it keeps the arch of your foot from flattening out when you walk or run. Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury, where the plantar fascia becomes inflamed.

What are the symptoms?

The primary symptom of plantar fasciitis is heel pain. Stiffness may also be present. Symptoms are typically worst first thing in the morning or after long periods of either sitting or standing. You may not notice pain while running, but your heel may hurt afterwards. Typically these symptoms start out gradually, but will get much worse if left untreated.

In some people, plantar fasciitis goes hand in hand with heel spurs, which are hard deposits of calcium on the heel bone. Occasionally, heel spurs cause pain when weight is placed on the heel. Most of the time, however, heel spurs are asymptomatic.

How is plantar fasciitis diagnosed?

To diagnose plantar fasciitis, a doctor or podiatrist will examine your foot and ask about your symptoms. Your doctor may order an x-ray or MRI to rule out other possible causes for your symptoms, or to see if a heel spur is present.

What causes plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis usually caused by a combination of things. Being overweight can overtax the plantar fascia. Having arches that are too flat or too high, a job that keeps you on your feet, and being between 40 and 80 years old are all risk factors, as well. Runners are at an even higher risk of developing the condition because of the repeated pounding of your feet against the pavement. If your running shoes are worn out or not the right fit, they may not be providing enough support—leading to added stress on the plantar fascia.

What can be done to treat it?

Plantar fasciitis is usually treatable, but it can take some time to heal. The length of your recovery will depend on how long you've had the problem, and how severe it is. Your doctor may recommend custom orthotics and a splint that you wear when you sleep. This splint stretches everything from your calf through the arch of your foot. You may also be referred to a physical therapist, and given exercises that will both stretch and strengthen your feet. If you have a heel spur along with your plantar fasciitis, the same treatment methods apply. Orthotics and stretching will usually relieve your symptoms.

Surgery or steroid injections may be used in cases that aren't responsive to less invasive forms of treatment. Surgery involves detaching the plantar fascia from the heel.

If are experiencing heel pain, don't put off heading to the foot doctor. The sooner you start treating plantar fasciitis, the sooner you can get back to running pain-free.