A friend recently revealed that he thought his wife was tucking in the sheets too tightly and this was what had been causing his heel pain first thing in the morning. While the too-tight sheets might be true, the likelihood that the friend’s foot pain is due to an overzealous bed maker or extreme ‘hospital corners’ is doubtful.
More likely, this friend is suffering from a fairly common condition, called plantar fasciitis.
What Is Plantar Fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is the thick band of tissue (ligament) that connects the heel bone to the toes and supports the arch of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is a common painful disorder affecting the heel and underside of the foot. It is characterized by scarring, inflammation and structural breakdown of the plantar fascia.
What Are The Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?
This condition is characterized by a stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot or heel when you stand or walk. It is often most especially pronounced when getting up in the morning or after sitting for a long time. This stiffness or pain may go away after just taking a few steps, but may get worse as the day progresses. Plantar fasciitis may also be most painful when climbing stairs or after standing for long periods.
Ignoring plantar fasciitis may result in chronic heel pain that hinders your regular activities. If you change the way you walk to minimize plantar fasciitis pain, you might also develop related foot, knee, hip or back problems.
What Causes This Condition?
Plantar fasciitis is more common in middle-aged people. It also occurs in younger people who are on their feet a lot, like athletes or workers who walk a lot or who stand for long periods—especially on hard surfaces.
Plantar fasciitis is basically caused by chronic irritation of the arch of the foot due to excessive strain. It occurs most often because of injuries that have happened over time, like repeated strain that causes tiny tears in the ligament. These strains and injuries can lead to pain and swelling.
Plantar fasciitis is more likely to occur in those who have the following conditions.
- Feet that roll inward too much (excessive pronation)
- High arches or flat feet
- Issues with weight
- Regularly wear shoes that don’t fit well or are worn out
- Tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles
What Are The Treatments?
There is no single treatment that works best for everyone with plantar fasciitis. Most cases of plantar fasciitis respond well to conservative methods of treatment. In fact, there are several home treatments that have proven to be effective.
- Give feet a rest and/or cut back on activities that make your feet hurt
- Avoid walking or running on hard surfaces
- Put ice on heel(s) to help reduce pain and swelling
- Take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen
- Stretch toes and calves several times during the day—especially first thing in the morning
- Try getting new shoes that have good arch support and a cushioned outsole
- Try heel cups or orthotics
If pain and swelling persist after trying these treatments, it’s best to consult a podiatrist. A doctor may recommend splints to wear at night, steroid shots in your heel(s) or other types of treatment.
Most cases of plantar fasciitis will respond to treatment within a few weeks, with pain decreasing fairly quickly. However, it may take a few months or even up to a year for the pain to go away completely. Plantar fasciitis is infamously stubborn.
Is There Any Way to Prevent Plantar Fasciitis?
The following recommendations may help prevent plantar fasciitis or help keep the condition from getting worse.
- Take good care of your feet
- Wear shoes with good arch support and heel cushioning
- If work requires standing on hard surfaces, stand on a thick rubber mat to reduce the stress on your feet
- Engage in exercises that stretch the Achilles tendon (at the back of your heel)
- Stay at healthy weight for your height
- Engage in exercise on a regular basis; start slowly and increase your exercise levels gradually
- Wear supportive shoes when you exercise
- If you run, alternate running with other sports that will not cause heel pain or run on natural/softer surfaces
- Put on supportive shoes as soon as you get out of bed because going barefoot or wearing slippers may put additional stress on your feet
So, if you’re experiencing pain in your heels or arch, especially first thing in the morning, don’t write it off to sheets that have been tucked in too tightly. Instead, have your feet checked by a doctor or better yet, by a podiatrist. You’ll be glad you did!