Walk pain-free: Treating plantar fasciitis

The stabbing pain, the stiffness, the dreaded first step of the morning—plantar fasciitis can make routine activities seem overwhelming. But there are ways to treat it.

What is plantar fasciitis?

The plantar fascia, a flat band of tissue supporting the arches in your feet, runs across the bottom of your foot from the heel bone to the toes. When this tissue is stressed over a period of time, small tears are created—causing inflammation. Factors such as high-impact exercising, obesity, aging, improper foot alignment, and standing or walking for long periods of time can all lead to plantar fasciitis.

Treatment and tips

Plantar fasciitis doesn’t happen overnight, and recovery doesn’t either. Be patient, and stick with the treatment recommended by your doctor.

Here are some tips to help with pain and recovery:

  1. Wear supportive shoes. Throw away those worn out athletic shoes. Give the high heels a rest. You need to wear shoes that have a low to moderate heel and provide good shock-absorbency and arch support. Avoid barefoot walking and wear shoes with a good cushioned sole. Ask your doctor about special arch supports that fit into your shoes to help alleviate symptoms.
  2. Engage in low-impact exercises. Jogging and dancing are examples of activities that can worsen the symptoms of plantar fasciitis. Give your feet a rest and choose lower-impact exercises, such as swimming or biking.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight can put too much stress on the plantar fascia. Talk to your doctor about maintaining a healthy diet or creating a healthy weight-loss plan.
  4. Stretch your calves and arches. Your calf muscles connect to your heel, so it’s necessary to stretch them to relieve tension on the plantar fascia. Plantar fascia specific stretches are beneficial as well.
  5. Take over-the-counter pain medication. When necessary, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) can help with pain, while reducing inflammation. Be sure to read all warnings and directions.
  6. Wear a night splint. While you sleep, night splints maintain the lower leg and foot in a more optimal position while lightly stretching the tendons. They may ease the pain you feel in the morning.
  7. Massage your foot. Roll a tennis ball around under your arch and heel for a few minutes. Your foot may feel slightly sore from the massage. This is normal.
  8. Ice your foot. Ice helps with inflammation and pain. For a double helping of relief, freeze a ¾-full bottle of water, then roll the bottle under your foot for 10 minutes. This will help with stretching the plantar fascia with the addition of cold therapy.

What if these treatments don’t work?

Some cases of plantar fasciitis require more aggressive treatment, such as physical therapy, steroid shots or, in rare cases, surgery.

Talk to your doctor, and plan your treatment. Plantar fasciitis should not be ignored—if left untreated, it can lead to chronic conditions in the feet, knees, hips, or back. But with the right regimen and patience, you can eventually be pain-free.

For more information or to make an appointment with a specialist, check out the UT Erlanger Foot and Ankle Institute or call 423-778-ORTH (6784).