Have you ever experienced a sharp pain in your heel for no apparent reason? One of the causes of heel pain is a condition called plantar fasciitis. It is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia, the tissue connecting the heel bone to the toes. The plantar fascia serves as a ‘shock absorber’ for the arch of the foot. You may experience a stabbing sensation in the foot, especially when getting out of bed in the morning. It is not unusual for the pain to subside with movement or stretching and it tends to reoccur after prolonged sitting, standing, or walking.
Some of the underlying causes include weight, age, activity, and even gender. Certain activities that place stress on the heel (running, dancing) may also play a role. Women are noted to be more prone to plantar fasciitis then men, especially when pregnant due to the increased load on the feet compared to that individual’s normal weight.
Too much tension in the plantar fascia can cause small tears in the tissue. When left untreated, the damage worsens and surgery may be warranted. However, physical therapy plays an important role to reduce pain and help avoid surgery. Often, people who suffer from plantar fasciitis have tighter and weaker muscles throughout the multiple layers of the foot. The physical therapist will conduct a detailed evaluation of the strength, flexibility and stability of the muscles and ligaments around your foot and ankle to determine the best course of action.
The right exercise program can strengthen the ankle and foot muscles, which reduces the strain on the plantar fascia and helps break the cycle of pain and discomfort. Deep tissue massage is another treatment aspect that is often employed and helps decrease restrictions of the muscles as well as improve blood flow, which directly affects the healing response. Combing specific therapeutic exercises for plantar fasciitis with orthopedic shoe inserts is something that a physical therapist may recommend. These are specially made inserts that are built to conform to the unique shape and arches of your feet. Pain medication (as prescribed by your physician), ice and rest are also helpful.
Sometimes surgery is an option but should be considered as the last resort after all other conservative measures have been exhausted. Plantar fasciitis is best treated with a combination of exercise and lifestyle modification. As a weight bearing structure, your feet are under constant stress and strain every day. Healing can take several weeks (or months) and a physical therapist will work with you every step of the way. The best course of action is to work closely with a physical therapist and continue with the prescribed home treatment program.
As your physical therapists, we are committed to your health and wellness goals. If you or someone you know are suffering from foot and heel pain give us a call. Most patients are able to being a physical therapy program immediately without a referral, and it is covered through your health insurance. Giving physical therapy a try is a step in the right direction!
Dr. Daniel Skulavik, PT, DPT, OCS, is with Advanced Physical Therapy located in the Food Lion Shopping Center, Clinton.