Plantar fasciitis is a condition causing foot pain. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that supports the arch of your foot. It connects the heel to the ball of the foot. This band can become inflamed or can tear, causing pain. Pain can be felt in the heel, along the arch, or at the ball of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is a common foot condition. It occurs in as many as 2 million Americans per year and 10% of the population over their lifetimes. Plantar fasciitis affects people of all ages, both athletes and nonathletes. Men and women have an equal chance of developing the condition. Physical therapists help people experiencing plantar fasciitis reduce their pain and restore their walking ability.
What Is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is a foot condition that develops when repeated activities put a strain on the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that supports the arch of the foot. People diagnosed with plantar fasciitis also may have heel spurs, a bony growth that forms on the heel bone.
Plantar fasciitis occurs most frequently in people in their 40s, but can occur in all age groups.
The condition can develop in athletes who run or jump a great deal, and in people who have jobs that require them to be on their feet for most of the day, such as police officers, cashiers, or restaurant workers.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of plantar fasciitis often appear with a sudden increase in activity. You might feel a stabbing pain on the underside of your heel, and a sensation of tightness and/or tenderness along your arch.
People with plantar fasciitis may experience pain:
- In the morning, when stepping out of bed and taking the first steps of the day.
- When standing for a long time.
- When standing up after sitting for a long time.
- After intense activity such as running or jumping.
- When climbing stairs.
- When walking barefoot or in shoes with poor support.
Your pain can fluctuate during the day, with pain improving as your body warms up and worsening later in the day after activity. As the condition gets worse, you may begin to limp.
How Is It Diagnosed?
The physical therapist’s diagnosis is based on your health and activity history, and on a clinical evaluation. Your physical therapist also will take a medical history to make sure that you do not have other conditions that may be causing your pain. Sharing information about your work and recreation, and reporting any lifestyle changes will help your physical therapist diagnose your condition and tailor a treatment program for your specific needs.
To diagnose plantar fasciitis, your physical therapist may conduct the following physical tests to see if symptoms occur:
- Massaging and pressing (palpation) on the heel area, arch of the foot, toward the toes.
- Gently stretching the ankle to bend the top of the foot toward the leg (dorsiflexion).
- Gently pressing the toes toward the ankle.
How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
Physical therapists are trained to evaluate and treat plantar fasciitis.
When you are diagnosed, your physical therapist will work with you to develop a program to decrease your symptoms. Your treatment may include:
Assessment of your gait (how you walk) and how this may impact your symptoms.
Stretching exercises to improve the flexibility of your ankle and the plantar fascia.
Strengthening exercises to improve the strength of supporting muscles.
Application of ice to decrease pain and inflammation.
Iontophoresis (a gentle way to deliver medication through the skin).
Taping of the foot for short-term relief.
Orthotics (shoe inserts) and supportive footwear to minimize abnormal foot motion, or to help support your arch, reducing stress to the plantar fascia.
A night splint to help you maintain correct ankle and toe positions while sleeping.
Gait training to help lessen symptoms and improve your walking ability.
Research shows that most cases of plantar fasciitis improve over time with these conservative treatments, and surgery is rarely needed.
Can This Injury or Condition Be Prevented?
Factors that contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis include:
- Age (over 40 years).
- A job, sport, or hobby that involves prolonged standing or other weight-bearing activity.
- Rapid increases in length or levels of activity, such as beginning a new running program or changing to a job that requires a lot of standing or walking.
- Decreased calf muscle flexibility.
- Increased body weight (Body Mass Index greater than 30).
- Flat feet.
- Wearing shoes such as high heels, or those with inadequate arch support.
Guidelines for the prevention or management of plantar fasciitis include:
- Choosing shoes with proper arch support and heel height.
- Replacing your shoes regularly, before they wear out.
- Using a thick mat if you must stand in one place for much of the day.
- Adjusting your exercise program to include a warmup and a gradual buildup, to avoid straining the plantar fascia.
- Stretching your calves and feet before and after running or walking.
- Maintaining a healthy body weight.
Your physical therapist will design an individualized treatment program to help heal your plantar fasciitis and prevent future injury.