What Is Plantar Fasciitis and Why Should I Know About It?

Chronic foot pain is…well…a pain. It can turn the simple act of walking – one of the benefits we take for granted as a result of being bipedal and walking on two feet – into excruciating agony. 75% of Americans experience foot pain at some point in their lives, which is understandable because feet are complicated. Each one contains 26 bones, 33 joints, and 126 assorted muscles, ligaments, and nerves. That’s a large number of component parts, all of them under constant pressure when we stand or walk, let alone run, so occasional foot pain is almost inevitable.

But 100 million Americans experience chronic foot pain. They spend over 600 billion dollars a year trying to fix it or make it go away. There are many, many causes of foot pain, and this article cannot possibly address all of them, so I am going to focus on one common cause of chronic foot pain, one that afflicts an estimated 2 million people – plantar fasciitis. I’ll focus on it because I have some familiarity with the condition, having experienced it myself, and having family members who have also suffered from it.

OK, I’ll bite…what is plantar fasciitis?

It’s an inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament, which interconnects the heel bone (calcaneous) and the toes, running along the entire bottom of the foot. Ligaments are composed of fibrous bands of tissue, and they stretch and contract with every step or movement. If this ligament is overused (as often happens in athletes), it may develop tiny tears in the tissue and become inflamed. This inflammation results in the condition called plantar fasciitis, which not only occurs in athletes but also in people who are overweight, who have developed overly tight Achilles tendons as a result of inactivity, or who wear improper footwear.

Plantar fasciitis is most commonly experienced as a burning or aching pain on the bottom of the foot, most often near the heel. This pain is most frequently experienced in the mornings, as we begin to put pressure on the ligament by standing or walking. The pain may decrease with activity, but also may start up again after periods of activity. Over half of people with plantar fasciitis say that they feel pain if they press on the area near the heel.

And why should I know about it?

Because it can get worse, and if untreated can lead to more debilitating conditions that threaten our very ability to walk. Also, the pain of plantar fasciitis can be relieved, and many of the causes of it eliminated through simple lifestyle changes.

If the symptoms listed above sound familiar to you, it’s a good idea to see your doctor, chiropractor, or podiatrist, who can diagnose the condition via a simple clinical examination. This examination may include watching you stand and walk, to see whether you have problems with overpronation or underpronation. The doctor may also examine or ask about your regular footwear, because many cases of plantar fasciitis are caused by shoes that fit improperly or that do not provide proper arch support.

If the diagnosis is plantar fasciitis, there are many things that can be done to relieve it. First, the doctor may recommend changes to your exercise routine if that seems to be one of the causes of the condition, and may recommend changes in your footwear. The pain itself can in most cases be relieved by over-the-counter medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen. Many sufferers from plantar fasciitis have found that yoga, stretching exercises, or self-massage can reduce the pain and cause the condition to go away. In addition, many people have found that chiropractic adjustments may help, by treating structural abnormalities or imbalances that put too much pressure on the Achilles tendon and the plantar fascia ligament.

In my case, finding different shoes with much better arch support and simple stretching exercises seemed to make the condition go away. And the thing is that I ignored such simple remedies for years because I didn’t know what plantar fasciitis was, or that I had it. I just lived with the foot pain as if it was something I had to live with. I didn’t, and neither do you.

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Juliette Siegfried, MPH

Juliette Siegfried, MPH, has been involved in health communications since 1991. Shortly after obtaining her Master of Public Health degree, she began her career at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Juliette now lives in Europe, where she launched ServingMed(.)com, a small medical writing and editing business for health professionals all over the world.

Juliette's resume, facebook: juliette.siegfriedmph, linkedin: juliettes, (+31) 683 673 767

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