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What causes plantar fasciitis?

Pain that keeps you from doing the things you usually enjoy can be very frustrating. It can prevent you from enjoying a range of activities that you love and can negatively affect your physical and mental health.

If you are experiencing pain in the bottom of your heel, your plantar fascia ligament may be inflamed and should be checked out by a doctor.

Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of pain in the bottom of the heel, but many people are not aware of its causes, symptoms or prevention.

What causes it?

Plantar fasciitis often develops due to overuse or overstretching of the plantar fascia ligament. Tears in the fascia tissue can also cause the pain.

It is most often caused by:

  • Regularly participating in sports or activities that put stress on the heel bone (this can include running, dancing and aerobics)
  •  Being flat-footed or having high arches
  •  Being overweight
  • Spending a lot of time on your feet
  • Wearing shoes with poor arch support or stiff soles
  •  Having tight calf muscles

Men and women between the ages of 40-70 are at the highest risk of developing plantar fasciitis, with it being slightly more common in women. Pregnant women often experience bouts of plantar fasciitis, particularly in late pregnancy.

Symptoms

The most common complaint of those with plantar fasciitis is pain in the bottom of the heel or midfoot area. Many people feel a burning or ache in this area, extending outward from the heel. Some people experience slight swelling in the heel.

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It usually affects just one foot but can affect both. The pain is usually worse in the morning, after prolonged sitting or standing, and after intense activity.

Treatment

Treatment for plantar fasciitis can include surgical and non-surgical options, depending on your unique condition.

Non-surgical treatments include:

Rest

It is important to stay off your feet. Icing the area for 15-20 minutes, 3-4 times per day will help reduce swelling. Anti-inflammatory medication including ibuprofen may also help soothe pain.

Using arch supports in your shoes and replacing worn-out athletic footwear are simple ways to support your heel and reduce your risk of injury.

Stretching exercises

Gentle stretches can help relieve or even prevent plantar fasciitis. Concentrating on stretching your calves and plantar fascia is most important to help reduce pain and loosen your muscles.

It’s important to take time off from more intense exercises such as running, to give yourself time to heal. Swimming is a great example of a low-impact exercise to take part in without worsening your heel pain. When you begin running again, it is important to start slowly and build up to avoid aggravation.

Stretching before any workout is always vital. Breaking up your exercise routine with stretching breaks is a great way to help prevent the pain from returning.

For more guidance on gentle stretching techniques, seeing a physio for plantar fasciitis may be recommended.

Physiotherapy

Physio treatment can help to safely stretch your plantar fascia and achilles tendons, in accordance with your unique condition. It is best to see a physiotherapist if you are unsure how to effectively stretch these areas or if at-home treatments have not yet helped.

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A Como physiotherapist will also guide you through exercises to strengthen your lower leg muscles, helping to stabilise you while walking which will ultimately take some of the pressure off your plantar fascia.

Essential oils

Some research suggests that using essential oils may reduce pain and inflammation related to plantar fasciitis. The oils recommended for use include:

  • Lavender
  • Eucalyptus
  • Lemongrass
  • Rose

You can dilute your essential oil with a carrier oil such as coconut oil before massaging it onto the area.

Extracorporeal shock wave therapy

In this therapy, shock waves are concentrated at the soft tissue of your heel to reduce pain and stimulate healing in the ligament.

Side effects of this treatment can include:

  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Bruising

Surgical treatment

When other treatments have been exhausted, surgery is a more extreme option that may be offered.

This is done only when pain is severe or lasts for more than 6-12 months. Surgery can result in chronic pain or nerve damage, so it is only done as a last option.

How can it be prevented?

Making a few important lifestyle changes may help prevent plantar fasciitis.

Wearing comfortable shoes with good arch support is a great preventative measure. Also ensure you replace your athletic footwear regularly.

Incorporating low-impact exercises into your routine, like swimming or cycling, can help you avoid overworking your plantar fascia. It may be a good idea to break up a frequent running routine with these low-impact exercises. Before any exercise ensure you stretch your calves, achilles tendon and plantar fascia.

It is also important to reduce pressure on your plantar fascia so managing your weight and keeping it to a healthy level is key.

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If you are looking for more information on plantar fasciitis symptoms, treatment and prevention, it is recommended you consult with your doctor.

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