Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the thick band of tissue that connects the heel to the toes — and it can be quite painful. Most commonly, pain is concentrated in the heel, but according to Dr. Alan Bass, a board-certified podiatrist based in New Jersey and spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association, it can be felt in other areas of the body as well.
“Tons of patients who suffer from plantar fasciitis disrupt their normal gait to avoid putting pressure on the bottom of the heel,” he said. “This compensation can lead to pain in the ankle, hips and even knees.”
There are many factors that can cause plantar fasciitis, but Dr. Bass says those who are overweight tend to be the ones who are most at risk. Added weight can cause the plantar fascia to stretch excessively, leading to increased inflammation, weakening of the plantar fascia and sometimes tearing. In turn, the body will try to catch any torn-away fibers by creating a painful spur, or bony protrusion, on the underside of the heel. Dr. Bass also says people with flat feet or high arches may be most susceptible to plantar fasciitis, due to increased pulling of the muscle band along the bottom of the foot.
For particularly severe cases, Dr. Bass says surgery is an option, however he estimates that over 90 percent of heel pain symptoms can be improved with conservative treatments.
Discover Dr. Bass’ top suggestions below, which could help cure your heel pain.
1. Supportive Footwear
“The right shoe will support the foot for long-term relief,” says Dr. Bass. He recommends avoiding styles that are flimsy (a shoe should only bend at the toes, never at the midsole) and opting for sturdy looks with specialized arch support. “When it comes to sneakers, Brooks, New Balance, Asics and Saucony are great brands to shop. Their styles feature quality cushioning catered to your specific foot type (I wear the Brooks Ghost for my neutral foot), which can be determined by your podiatrist before going through with your purchase.”
2. Insoles and Arch Support
Instead of buying new shoes entirely, insoles can also be used in certain styles for additional support. Like with footwear, Dr. Bass suggests consulting a podiatrist first to determine exactly what kind of insole you need. His rule of thumb? “While over-the-counter orthotics will provide some relief, it’s important to remember that they’re made for shoe sizes, not foot types. If you’re experiencing more severe pain, it’s best to get your orthotics custom-made.”
For patients who do require low-level support, Dr. Bass says Powerstep insoles are your best over-the-counter option. “They provide firm yet flexible cushioning and a deep heel cup for increased stability and motion control.”
According to Dr. Bass, stretching can help relieve and prevent future heel pain. Some his go to exercises include:
- Picking up a towel with your toes: “Squeezing the toes around a towel will help strengthen the muscles on the bottom of the foot — not just the plantar fascia — which is key for recovery.”
- Rolling a frozen water bottle on the bottom of your feet: “This not only helps massage the sore area, but also reduce inflammation due to the cold temperature of the bottle.”
- Stretching your achilles: “While the plantar fascia mainly attaches at the bottom of the heel, some of the fibers run along the bottom and back towards the Achilles tendon. Stretching the achilles tendon will allow the muscle to loosen and thus reduce tension on the plantar fascia. You can do this by sitting down with straight legs and pulling at your midsole with a belt, or performing a lunge pose with both feet flat on the ground and your hands against a wall.”
5. Compression Socks
Compression socks feature elastic to swathe tightly around the feet and ankles, which can help reduce inflammation and support the arch, says Dr. Bass.
“It’s amazing what two dollars of taping can do to provide great relief. Any type of athletic tape will work (I use one from Tenoplast); just make sure to visit your podiatrist for proper application so you can really reap the benefits.”
6. Night Splints
People with plantar fasciitis often experience pain right after they get out of bed in the morning. That’s because while you sleep, the feet relax and thus point down — causing them to take on a contracted position. Night splints can provide relief, as they lock down your feet at a 90-degree angle to keep the muscles stretched throughout the night. While there are a range of over-the-counter option that can be purchased, Dr. Bass recommends obtaining them from a podiatrist, who can provide advice about proper use and finding the right fit.
“Depending on the severity of the pain, injections can be administered by a professional to help decrease inflammation.” According to Dr. Bass, cortisone injections (not to confused with potentially harmful anabolic steroid injections often used by bodybuilders) are the most common and effective type used.
8. Shock Wave Therapy
“A lot of patients don’t visit a professional until they’ve suffer from heel pain for quite awhile or have had other ineffective treatments. At some point, patients can also develop scarring of the plantar fascia. In this case, high frequency shock wave therapy might need to be done in order to break up some of the scarring on bottom of the foot and allow the body to heal itself.”
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