“As a keen hiker, I initially walked through the pain I felt in my heel a few months ago; I didn’t want to miss out on the enjoyment of hiking. But the pain quickly became excruciating and two weeks later I was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. As a young, active woman in my mid 20s, being suddenly (and literally) stopped in my tracks and wracked in pain was demoralising and hard to cope with. The plantar fasciitis is still yet to heal completely but I’ve been able to alleviate the pain thanks to daily exercises, wearing supportive footwear and taking the necessary precautions when on my feet. Although on a more limited scale, I’ve still been able to pursue my love of the great outdoors.” – Zoe, 26
What is plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a thick area of tissue running from your heel bone to the bones in your middle feet. The plantar fascia provides support to the arch of your foot and helps you walk. Plantar fasciitis can be extremely debilitating, causing severe pain in the heel of the foot and difficulty in walking. Pain is often worst in the morning, upon getting out of bed, and worsens over a period of months.
It is estimated that 10% of the American population suffer from plantar fasciitis and that it accounts for approximately 1 million patient visits each year. Plantar fasciitis most commonly affects people between 40 and 60 years old – partly due to the fact that the flexibility of tissue in the feet lessens with age. However, sportspeople are also often affected, particularly long-distance runners, due to the repeated stretching of the plantar fascia during training and competing. Plantar fasciitis affects slightly more women than men, whilst obesity also increases the likelihood of developing it. Although the prognosis of plantar fasciitis is good, it can take a while for the condition to heal completely. Patience, regular stretches and sensible precautions are necessary for the best chance of a full recovery.
Home treatment for plantar fasciitis is very effective, with over 90 percent of patients experiencing a marked improvement after two months. There are several ways of managing the symptoms at home, including:
1. Wearing appropriate shoes
Despite the pain brought on by walking, gentle walking is actually one of the best ways of aiding recovery from plantar fasciitis. The key is to walk correctly and in supportive shoes. Always opt for shoes with a cushioned heel and a soft heel. Make sure not to overdo it; walk sensible distances, taking regular breaks.
2. Doing regular stretching exercises
It is extremely important to gently stretch your achilles tendon and plantar fasciar a few times a day, every day. Stick to a stretching programme and place on the heel afterwards, putting a towel between the ice and the heel. Don’t be afraid of taking anti-inflammatories too, if need be.
3. Using a TENS unit
TENS machines are thought to affect the way pain signals travel to the brain. When placed in the appropriate areas (initially under the guidance of a doctor), the electrodes in a TENS unit send small electrical pulses through the body and can help alleviate the pain in the plantar fascia.
4. Wrapping your foot with tape or a bandage: this can help reduce the inflammation in your feet and, in doing so, alleviate the pain. It is straightforward and effective.
5. Wearing a night splint:
Sometimes doctors recommend a night splint to patients, as these can help gently stretch the plantar fascia and Achilles tendon and prevent them from tightening overnight. This in turn can help lessen the pain felt in the morning.
Full recovery from plantar fasciitis can be a slow process. Don’t lose heart though: make sure you visit your doctor, stick to the self-management tips and be patient. Take it one step at a time.