When you wake up in the morning, do you hesitate to step out of bed? Are your first few steps especially painful, punctuated by more pain when you stand up from a chair or stand in one place?
The most common cause for this type of pain is plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the connective tissue around your heel. An estimated 1 in 10 people develop it sometime in their lives, and it’s such a widespread malady that it makes up as many as 15 percent of visits to the podiatrist’s office. If you have it, you’re not alone.
Understanding Heel Pain From Plantar Fasciitis
It can help you to know what’s happening if you have a better grasp of your heel’s structure. The main bone in your heel is called the calcaneum, and it is cupped by a fatty pad that looks a little like a honeycomb and helps absorb shock when you step.
The plantar fascia is a thick ligament that connects the heel and your toes by running along the length of your foot’s sole. Shaped a bit like a triangle, the plantar fascia then branches off in five pieces to connect to each toe.
You also have a nerve that runs through the heel bone, and if the plantar fascia gets inflamed through overuse or injury, it can press against the nerve and cause pain. Similar pain can occur if the bursa, or fluid sack, that rests under the heel bone for added cushioning becomes irritated or inflamed, but this is much less common. However, any source of heel pain should be checked by a medical professional to get an accurate diagnosis and treatment options.
Causes of Plantar Fasciitis
Why does plantar fasciitis happen? It does tend to be more prevalent in young men who are athletic and middle-aged women who are overweight or obese. In general, athletes of all ages and genders can develop plantar fasciitis due to overuse.
A few other factors can play a role:
- You are overweight. More weight puts more strain on your feet, noticeably on your heels. The extra weight can compress your foot just enough to put more pressure on the plantar fascia and increase your odds of this strip of connective tissue becoming swollen.
- You have a job that requires a lot of standing or being on your feet, especially if that’s not something you’ve been doing for years.
- Your shoes are not supportive. Especially if you are active, you need shoes with excellent arch support and good cushioning. Replace shoes you wear frequently at least every 6 to 12 months; footwear that you run in or participate in a sport daily may need to be replaced every 3 months. If you notice that the shoe cushioning is becoming unevenly distributed, that’s another sign that you need a new pair. Insoles can make non-athletic shoes more supportive.
- You make sudden changes to an exercise or training routine. If you do too much, too fast — like running long distances on a harder or more uneven surface or adding a lot more time on your feet over the course of days instead of weeks — your plantar fascia may suffer.
- Your Achilles tendon is tight. This large tendon that connects the muscles just above your heel to your calf can have a domino effect if it’s not working properly. If your ankle doesn’t move correctly, it can stress the plantar fascia and cause problems. Talk to your doctor or professional athletic trainer for exercises to make your Achilles tendon stronger and more flexible.
Of course, sometimes plantar fasciitis just seems to happen, without a traceable cause. If you have mild or moderate pain that has started for any reason, it’s important to address it and improve it before it becomes worse — or a chronic condition that impacts your activity levels.
Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis
You’d think that as prevalent as plantar fasciitis is, there would be an easy fix. After all, if somewhere between 1 in 10 and 1 in 7 appointments at the podiatrist center around this type of heel pain, surely the doctors would have a solution by now, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The most traditional — and usually, most effective — treatment is RICE: Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.
- Rest. Stay off your feet as much as possible. That means cutting back on your activity level for now. Ask if you can sit at work.
- Ice. A frozen plastic water bottle rolled gently under your foot for 5-10 minutes, several times a day, can help calm the inflammation.
- Compression. Use a wrap on your heel area to add support. Compression socks and supportive shoes are helpful.
- Elevation. Keep your feet up on a stool or chair when you can. This helps reduce swelling.
The sooner after you experience pain that you start taking care of yourself, the more quickly this standard protocol can help.
Another option is Hot Stuff® Sports Cream, a great addition to your pain relief therapy. Originally developed for athletes, Hot Stuff® Sports Cream temporarily relieves pain from sore muscles, arthritis pain, sprains, strains and bruises. Apply Hot Stuff® directly to pain areas like arthritic knees for deep-penetrating pain relief you can feel working right away.
Several products can help you to heal quickly and reduce pain while you follow the RICE protocol.
PFTape® Plantar Fasciitis Pain Relief System
PFTape® provides needed support to your entire foot to quickly reduce heel pain. Applying PFTape® lets you engage in activity even if you’re hurting. It’s especially nice because it’s not bulky and restrictive; plus, it’s disposable so you can use a fresh one whenever you need relief from pain. You don’t have to adjust or cut it because it will fit any size foot.
You can find specific compression socks sold for plantar fasciitis — usually, they have no toes and extra heel support — but any decent compression socks will provide added support. Graduated compression ankle socks are great for staying active without a big, bulky sock.
Because heel support is so key in treating plantar fasciitis, a great insole is important to add more cushioning. Like the cushioning in shoes, the cushioning in some types of insoles can compress and be less effective over time, so either look for a moderately-priced option that can be replaced frequently or talk to your medical professional about a longer-lasting insole that will be right for your foot.
Immobilizing your foot at night can help keep it in the correct position while you sleep. Some types of night splints are designed to help you gently stretch the plantar fascia to promote faster healing. Look for a splint that is completely adjustable for maximum comfort.
Gently stretching your foot muscles and plantar fascia by rolling a ridged foam or wood cylinder under your foot can help you heal faster. Some people use an inexpensive piece of wood dowel or PVC pipe, but a roller designed to alleviate plantar fasciitis can provide just the right amount of stimulation and pressure. You can also find massage balls with nubs that can stimulate and stretch your foot.
Consistent Treatment is Key
It’s wise to check with your podiatrist or other medical professional as soon as you experience heel pain. By addressing the issue early, you’ll heal faster and more completely. It’s also a good idea to make sure you’re not suffering from a different, less common source of heel pain that may require different treatment.
Once you do have a diagnosis of plantar fasciitis, consistent treatment with the RICE protocol and regular use of helpful support products like the PFTape® Plantar Fasciitis Pain Relief System can minimize pain and aid healing. Contact us if you have questions about the best products for plantar fasciitis and how PFTape® can help you.