Best foot forward: Preventing plantar fasciitis
By Amy Flaherty
Now that spring is finally here, and the lab’s runners and walkers are hitting the streets and trails, keeping feet healthy is key to enjoying outdoor activities. One common cause of heel pain and discomfort is plantar fasciitis, a disorder that results in inflammation along the sole of the foot.
The plantar fascia is a ligament that supports the arch of the bottom of the foot. It runs from the front of the heel bone to the ball of the foot. During walking, it acts like a spring, continuously stretching from the time the heel hits the ground to toe push off. Due to the load and stress placed on the plantar fascia, tiny microscopic tears occur. This is normal and in a healthy foot the body’s healing response is able to repair this damage. However, when the body cannot keep up with the repair, inflammation builds in the area and heel discomfort occurs.
Plantar fasciitis symptoms
The major symptom of plantar fasciitis is heel discomfort upon weight bearing, especially if the first few steps out of bed in the morning are the most painful. This occurs because the plantar fascia is not being stretched overnight, and since there is even less blood flow due to lack of movement, inflammation builds overnight. Sudden weight-bearing in the morning, combined with these physical conditions in the foot, places a fast hard stretch on the fascia and tissues surrounding the fascia exacerbating the micro tears and pain.
Plantar fasciitis causes
- Rapid weight gain (pregnancy) or obesity
- Change in activity level: being on feet more at work, or starting running
- Foot arch issues:
- Shoes with little to no arch support
- High arches or flat feet
Note: Increased weight bearing on feet with poor arch support in shoes leads to increased stress on plantar fascia and possible collapse in arch.
- Tight Achilles tendon and calf muscles
- In people over the age of 40, tissue aging factors such as loss of protective fat pad and loss of supporting Achilles tendon, may increase the risk of plantar fasciitis.
- Stretch after periods of inactivity before weight bearing. Pull your big toe back with one hand and take other hand and use thumb to massage from the heel to the ball of foot for 30 seconds. Repeat three times. This will gently stretch the tissue and increase blood flow.
- Stretch the Achilles tendon by standing on step, drop heel off the back of step, keep knee straight, and then repeat with knee slightly bent. Hold stretches for 30 seconds. Complete three repetitions. The pull should be gentle. Overstretching the tissue can cause more damage.
- Massage: Roll a golf ball under your foot. Try to perform twice a day for 10 minutes.
- Ice: Take a water bottle, remove a little of the water, then recap and freeze. Roll the water bottle under the affected foot when sitting at your desk, watching television or relaxing. Ice three times a day for 15 minutes.
- Wear shoes with good arch support and avoid wearing flip flops.
- Orthotics: There is no research to support custom made orthotics verses over-the-counter orthotics for plantar fasciitis. You can purchase over-the- counter insoles to place in shoes you already own that need additional cushion and arch support.
- If pain persists, see your doctor for a physical therapy referral or other physician recommendations.