Plantar fasciitis, or policeman’s heel, occurs when the plantar fascia, the tissue which connects the heel bone to the toes, is inflamed. This common cause of heel pain is often felt when standing for a long period of time, getting up from a seated or reclined position, climbing stairs and intense activity that puts pressure on the plantar fascia.
The stabbing pain in the heel often occurs in one foot gradually and sometimes develops in both feet. It is usually at its worst when getting up in the morning. Since the plantar fascia supports the arch of the foot, tension can cause it to tear and get inflamed.
Athletes, soldiers, runners, ballet dancers, pregnant women and overweight persons are often at risk to this condition. So are individuals from 40 to 60 years old and those who are flat-footed. Standing and walking for a long time, and wearing shoes with thin soles can also contribute to it.
Left untreated, plantar fasciitis can lead to chronic pain in the heel, knee, back, foot and hip problems.
Discuss with your doctor the symptoms you have, medications you are taking and other medical conditions you have, including those that run in your family. A physical exam will be done to check your muscle strength, balance, coordination and reflexes. An x-ray, ultrasound or MRI may also be performed to determine the condition of your heel bones. To alleviate the symptoms, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Massage and physical therapy, orthotics, a boot cast, night splints or steroid shots to the heel may also be suggested. A rehabilitation program may be prescribed to decrease the pain and inflammation, improve flexibility, strengthen the plantar fascia, determine biomechanical problems and prevent injury. Crutches may sometimes be used if needed. In extreme conditions or refractory cases where conservative treatments fail to work, shock wave therapy or surgery may be recommended.
At home, try keeping your feet up and avoid walking or standing for too long when the pain is intense. Gentle stretching, sports massage and strengthening can help flexibility. You can also try applying an ice pack for about 15 minutes to reduce inflammation. Avoid activities that put pressure on your feet and instead do stretching exercises to benefit the calf muscles, Achilles tendon and plantar fascia. Use shoe inserts, heel cups or arch supports for your shoes to lessen the shock to the plantar fascia. Pick shoes with cushioned soles and arch support. Keep a healthy and ideal weight to lessen stress on this tissue. Avoid high heels and walking barefoot on hard surfaces. Try strengthening exercises for the plantar fascia like walking on tip toes.
To prevent plantar fasciitis, perform stretching and strengthening exercises for the plantar fascia and get sports massages regularly. Footwear is important in treating and preventing plantar fasciitis so always wear good, comfortable shoes. Lace up shoes are more kind to your feet compared to slip-ons and sandals. Replace worn out shoes regularly. A podiatrist can recommend the best type of footwear for you to use.