One evening last winter I walked out of a movie theater and into a real-life drama involving my left foot. Every step I took brought increasing pain, radiating through my heel as though I'd pounded my sole with a brick.
I cut back on my vigorous power-walking routine, reasoning that the ache came from a pulled muscle or bruise and would right itself with a few days' rest. Wrong.
Each morning, as my feet touched the floor, the pain intensified.
I hobbled into my local athletic-shoe store for advice. The salesman, who is also a running coach, didn't even have to examine my foot to make a diagnosis. "Plantar fasciitis," he informed me. "We see five or six cases a week."
"My Feet are Killing Me!"
Foot problems are endemic to modern society. Ironically, the activity that has propelled Americans toward greater health and fitness-walking-has also fueled the cry, "My feet are killing me!"
Why? Primarily, because most people are unaware of the mechanics of the foot, and of proper footwear.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation or tearing of the fascia, the connective tissue that runs from the heel bone to each of the five toes.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation or tearing of the connective tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot, from heel to toe. It is likely to affect people who are overweight, who walk excessively or who suddenly increase the amount of their running or walking.
Likens the arch of the foot to a bow, and the plantar fascia to a bowstring. The fascia maintains the arch's normal shape, just as a bowstring maintains the shape of a bow.
Overstressing the foot can lead to Plantar Fasciitis because your muscles run out of gas, and your foot tends to sag into the plantar fascia.
Weekend athletes, people who are overweight, those who do excessive walking on the job (such as police officers or mail carriers), and all those who suddenly increase the amount of running or walking they do are likely candidates for Plantar Fasciitis.
Ill-fitting shoes play a major role in foot injuries. If you're in high heels all day, you may wind up with shortened Achilles' tendons and tight calves. Since it's harder to get your heel down, your plantar fascia is being strained. Over time, this can predispose you to Plantar Fasciitis.
While the onset of Plantar Fasciitis is often slow and insidious, it can also occur abruptly if you stumble on a rock or jump off a ladder, for instance.
A Guide to Help you Cure Plantar Fasciitis in 1 Week:
In my case, I was susceptible in part because I tend to pronate, or rotate my feet inward as I walk. In pronation, there is more tendency for the arch to want to collapse. The fascia is working to keep the arch from collapsing, so the additional stress can lead to injury.
By the same token, high-arched feet, which are relatively inflexible, are poor shock absorbers--and thus more vulnerable to sprains or strains.
The reason Plantar Fasciitis can take so long to heal is that each time you step on the foot, you re-injure it. That's why the agony I experienced each morning is one of plantar fasciitis' hallmarks. During the night, the area starts to mend. The minute you bear weight, you actually tear the fascia all over again.
A Worthwhile Investment for Your Feet
You can buy ready-made orthotic devices at most drug and sporting-good stores, generally for $30 to $50 a pair. I originally tried these, but found them inadequate for the amount of walking I do, and opted for the custom-made variety. Custom orthotics can cost anywhere from $100 to $300, but, like prescription eyeglasses, they may be a worthwhile investment.
You rest and ice the affected area, take aspirin to reduce the inflammation, and, while you're mending, switch from walking or jogging to an exercise that doesn't stress the heel, such as swimming or cycling.
Most important, strengthen the muscles that help support your arch. At work, take your phone calls standing up, balancing on one foot. Use your desk for support, and do toe raises to strengthen your calf muscles. When you're sitting, push your injured foot out and up against the leg of the desk, then in and up, to tone the muscles alongside the plantar fascia.
A final footnote to help save your soul: Don't step into a dream world. People go on vacation with idyllic images of running carefree on the beach. When running barefoot on sand is a sure way to cause plantar fasciitis, your heel sinks down, and as you come forward, it's harder to maintain your arch. If you must jog along the beach, wear shoes, and run where the sand is firm.
Some Factors can Increase the Force on the Fascia
If your favorite form of cardiovascular exercise is jogging or running, at one time or another you've likely suffered from extreme pain on the bottom of your heels, a condition known as plantar fasciitis.
The pain originates in a band of tissue called the plantar fascia that extends from your toes and runs along the bottom of your foot to attach to your heel. If you run a lot, the repetitive force placed on the fascia can cause small tears near its heel attachment.
Several factors can increase the force on the fascia, including improperly fitting shoes, shoes with soles that are too stiff or don't flex at the proper place, leg-length differences, tight calves, high arches, low arches and not allowing enough time to recover between intense runs.
You're more likely to get the condition if you're a woman, overweight or have a job that requires a lot of walking or standing on hard surfaces.
The condition often starts with mild pain in the heel bone and worsens over time. You're more likely feel it after, not during, exercise, and the symptoms are more noticeable when you first get out of bed in the morning. Relief comes with a little activity but the symptoms tend to flare up if the activity lasts for too long.
If you experience symptoms of plantar fasciitis, see a podiatrist immediately Most people see significant improvement if they get medical advice early on. The key is limiting your "on feet" activity and being a patient patient, as it typically takes 2-3 months for the condition to subside.
Your physician may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or even cortisone injections although some physicians eel that such medications might actually delay the healing process. You may be prescribed physical therapy orthotic devices for your shoes, even a splint to stretch your calf muscles luring the night.
Be cautious if your doctor is quick o suggest surgery; a growing consensus holds that plantar fasciitis is best treated non-surgically, only 44% of patients reported the complete disappearance of symptoms following surgery.
Plantar Fasciitis - Do's & Don'ts
If heel pain strikes you down, these tips will limit the damage until you can see a healthcare professional.
- DO ice the bottom of your foot, concentrating near the heel and arch. Ice for 10-15 minutes 3-4 times a day, with at least an hour between sessions.
- DO roll a tennis ball or golf ball under your foot while sitting. This will massage the fascia and help break up the scar tissue.
- DO Take an over-the-counter NSAID such as Advil or ibuprofen to alleviate pain.
- DO perform the following stretches several times a day.
Calf stretch: Stand 1-2 feet away from a wall with one foot in front of the other. Lean forward, placing your hands on the wall and sliding your back foot back as far as possible without letting your heel come off the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. Alternate feet and do 10 times per side.
Plantar fascia stretch: Stand about 1 foot in front of a countertop with your feet about shoulder-width apart and one foot in front of the other. Grasp the edge of the countertop as you squat down, keeping your heels on the floor. Hold in the bottom position for 10 seconds and return to the erect position. Switch feet and repeat a total of 20 times.
- DON'T continue to run, jump, walk long distances or stand for extended periods. Safe cardio activities include cycling and swimming.
- DON'T wear shoes that have heels higher than 1 inch. The American Academy of Podiatric SportsMedicine has a list of recommended footwear for athletes at www.aapsm.org.
- DON'T do anything barefoot or while wearing sandals, even just walking around your house.