Athletes are subject to a variety of injuries, like torn ACLs, hamstring strains, and groin pulls. But, plantar fasciitis is an issue anyone—athlete or not—can develop. In fact, it’s quite common among “regular” people.
Dr. Colin Graney, Fellowship Trained Foot and Ankle Surgeon and Owner of Madison Advanced Foot and Ankle, discusses the symptoms, causes, and treatments for this foot-related condition.
Symptoms & Causes
The plantar fascia is a large, broad ligament that connects the heel to the ball of the foot. It is one of the support structures that holds up one’s arch. When someone develops plantar fasciitis, the first symptom is typically sharp, stabbing pain first thing in the morning when getting out of bed. This pain can also occur after periods of rest throughout the day.
“Eventually, [the pain] gets better the more you walk. Now, as it becomes more and more of a chronic issue, where it’s not being treated, that sharp, stabbing pain can migrate to an aching and throbbing pain that can last all day and never truly go away,” explains Dr. Graney.
The primary cause of plantar fasciitis is a tight Achilles tendon. “Essentially, the Achilles tendon wraps all around the heel. A lot of those fibers become part of the plantar fascia. So, one of the mainstays of treatment is trying to stretch out the Achilles tendon and the calf muscle,” he adds. “That can alleviate a lot of pressure and tightness around the heel and the plantar fascia.”
At-Home Treatment Options
Plantar fasciitis usually develops slowly and rarely accompanies an acute incident (e.g. ankle sprain, blunt trauma to the foot). Rather, it typically presents in the absence of injury.
At the outset of symptoms, Dr. Graney’s suggests simple stretching (similar to how runners stretch), focusing on the calf muscle. “You can even take your thumb and massage along the plantar fascia to try and break up some of that inflammation,” he notes.
Oral anti-inflammatories such as Aleve, ibuprofen, and Tylenol may temporarily relieve pain. But, Dr. Graney says one of the most significant actions people can take is to make sure they’re wearing appropriate footwear.
“If your shoes have seen better days, and they’re a bit more on the ragged end, a new pair of shoes or inserts can go a long way just to help support the arch and take some pressure off that heel and alleviate the plantar fascia.”
When to See a Doctor
If at-home methods aren’t working, Dr. Graney encourages individuals to visit a foot and ankle physician like himself. This is so he, firstly, can rule out another type of injury such as a stress fracture or bone spurs. Once plantar fasciitis is confirmed, there are a few treatment options—including bracing, physical therapy, and steroid injection.
“Many people don’t like the idea of an injection going into their foot, and I can’t blame them. But, it is one of the things that offers quite a bit of relief. It’s nearly instantaneous, and people respond very well,” Dr. Graney assures.
While relatively rare, some cases of plantar fasciitis eventually require surgical intervention. Fortunately, it is a minimally invasive procedure, and patients are up and walking the same day of surgery.
Get on the Path to Recovery, Sooner Rather than Later
Ultimately, Dr. Graney’s best advice is to enlist the help of a medical professional—in order to properly diagnose and treat plantar fasciitis, or any foot/ankle-related problem.
“When people think they have plantar fasciitis, if they start to look it up on Google and read results, it’s not always plantar fasciitis. There can be nerve issues and other things. So, seeking out a medical professional can be one of the easiest things to do, just to make sure we get the recovery sped up, make sure we have the right diagnosis, and basically get back to normal life as quickly as possible.”