Studies show about three-quarters of all Americans will experience foot pain at some point in their lives. Of them, more than 2 million people who seek treatment each year will learn they suffer from an overuse condition called plantar fasciitis.
Fortunately, according to Philadelphia physical therapist Chris McKenzie, most cases of plantar fasciitis are both manageable and treatable.
“Plantar fasciitis will typically present itself as sharp pain in the heel or in the arch of the foot, most often when you’re taking the first steps of the day,” said McKenzie, owner of McKenzie Sports Physical Therapy in Philadelphia. “The pain is the result of your plantar fascia – the thick band of tissue connecting your heel to the ball of your foot – becoming inflamed due to overuse.”
The inflammation that causes plantar fasciitis can come from a sudden increase in activity levels (i.e., walking or running much longer distances) or from sports-related activities that require a lot of running and jumping. Other causes may include a lot of standing, walking or running on hard surfaces, not wearing shoes that properly support your foot type, or being overweight.
It’s estimated plantar fasciitis affects about 10 percent of Americans at some point in their lives, with most being diagnosed after the age of 40.
“Plantar fasciitis pain may come and go for some without treatment, but we never recommend ignoring pain as this is your body’s way of telling you something’s wrong,” McKenzie said. “Fortunately, there are some things you can do at home to help relieve the discomfort and hopefully keep the condition from getting worse.”
Tips for the at-home management of plantar fasciitis include:
Rest: As with any overuse injury, rest is a key component of recovery. Decrease your distances when walking or running, and try to avoid hard surfaces.
Stretching: Stretch the soles of your feet by gently pulling your big toe back toward your ankle and holding for 10 seconds at a time. Also, wrap a towel around the ball of your foot and, from a seated position with your heel to the floor, slowly pull your toes toward you, stretching the arch of your foot. As tight calves may also make you more susceptible to plantar fasciitis, regular calf stretches are a must.
Massage: A tennis ball can do wonders as a massaging tool. Roll a tennis ball under the sole of your foot, applying weight as comfort allows. Rolling your foot over a frozen plastic water bottle can also work, with the added benefit of helping decrease pain and inflammation.
Foot Support: When standing for long periods of time, stand on a thick, padded mat. And don’t take your shoes for granted. Make sure they offer good arch support and that you replace them immediately as the shock absorption begins to wear down.
If pain persists, however, a more individualized treatment plan from a physical therapist is likely needed, McKenzie said. A physical therapist can pinpoint the most likely triggers of your plantar fasciitis pain, then customize a treatment regimen that may include flexibility and strength exercises, footwear recommendations and/or custom shoe inserts, and the possible use of taping or splints to help maintain optimal ankle and toe positions.