If you’re active, you’ve probably experienced foot pain at some point. Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of foot pain, affecting 1 out of 10 Americans at some point in their lives. I have experienced it myself a couple of times. If you have pain in your heel or arch that’s worse in the morning, following long periods of sitting or standing, or feels better during activity and worse after, you might have a case of plantar fasciitis.
What is plantar fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that attaches at your heel and runs to your toes. It provides structure to the arch of your foot and acts like a shock-absorbing sling when you walk. Repetitive stretching and trauma to the tissue can cause microtears to develop, resulting in pain. The most common causes are:
- Certain types of exercise, typically high-impact like running, jumping, or dancing
- Poor foot mechanics (flat-footed or high arches)
- Standing on hard surfaces for long periods of time
The most common symptom is sharp pain under the heel, most often felt first thing in the morning when you step out of bed. Your plantar fascia has just spent hours in a shortened position (toes pointed under the covers) trying to heal overnight, and then you step out of bed, abruptly stretching it as your foot hits the floor. The microtears keep recurring.
What can you do about it?
For active people, runners especially, plantar fasciitis can really throw a wrench in the works. But there are several things you can do to keep yourself on your feet:
- Catch it early. Don’t let yourself be lulled into ignoring your plantar fasciitis because you only feel it in the morning. Chronic heel pain can lead to compensation in your gait and create even more issues up the kinetic chain into your knee, hip, or low back.
- Wear a plantar fasciitis splint to bed. You can find these at most drug stores, and they’re not uncomfortable to sleep in. The splint keeps your ankle flexed so your plantar fascia isn’t in a shortened position all night. When the microtears heal, they heal with the fascia at a proper length. It also avoids the abrupt stretch as your foot hits the floor. If you’re opposed to sleeping in the splint, this simple trick can help: before getting out of bed, roll your ankle around and point and flex your toes to stretch the plantar fascia before bearing any weight on it.
- Ice after workouts or long days on your feet. Freeze a water bottle and roll it around under your foot for an ice massage.
- Strengthen your calves and feet. Calf raises, toe walking, and toe scrunches will help build stability in your arch and reduce the stress on the plantar fascia.
- Wear shoes with proper support for your foot. Visit a reputable running store (like our local Plateau Runner) where they do a basic gait analysis before making shoe recommendations. If you have structural issues like flat feet or high arches, you may need additional corrective support from inserts or orthotics.
You can implement these strategies as soon as you notice symptoms, but as with any chronic pain, it’s still important to see your doctor to rule out other conditions.