Plantar Fasciitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

If you ever step out of bed in the morning and feel a sharp, knife-like shooting pain in your heel, there’s a good chance you have a condition called “plantar fasciitis.”

It’s the most common cause of heel pain — and it can be excruciating. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, approximately 2 million people undergo treatment for plantar fasciitis each year.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

The plantar fascia — a strong band of tissue, or ligament, that stretches from the heel to the middle foot bones — supports the foot and acts as a shock absorber. Plantar fasciitis occurs when this ligament becomes irritated and inflamed.

The most common cause of plantar fasciitis is overuse and overloading the plantar fascia. However, improper footwear, obesity, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, aging, and foot structure also may contribute to this condition.

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Are You at Risk of Developing Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis common in both professional athletes and “weekend warriors,” and it affects men and women equally. People who are on their feet for long periods of time such as dancers, teachers, runners, soldiers, or waiters are at greater risk than those who are more sedentary.

What Are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?

Pain is the hallmark symptom of plantar fasciitis, and it can occur anywhere on the underside of the heel. Gentle exercise may ease things a little as the day goes by, but a long walk often makes the pain worse.

What Is the Treatment for Plantar Fasciitis?

Patients often improve after six to nine months of non-surgical treatment, including rest, anti-inflammatory medication to reduce pain and inflammation, applying cold compresses, splinting and therapy (stretching) programs, and shock wave treatment to soften and break down scar tissue and reduce inflammation, said Periklis A. Papapetropoulos, MD, foot and ankle surgeon at Orthopaedic Specialists-UPMC.  Or, your doctor may recommend using orthotic insoles.

During recovery, it’s important to reduce or eliminate activities that cause discomfort until the pain and inflammation ease. If you start using your plantar fascia before it has a chance to heal properly (even though it may feel better), you can end up doing a lot more damage than good!

What If Treatment Doesn’t Ease Your Heel Pain?

Surgery may be considered if nonsurgical treatments do not bring relief within nine months.