Is Your Heel Pain Plantar Fasciitis?

Pete Hunt

Most of us will experience foot or heel pain from time to time, due to unforgiving footwear, manual, retail or hospitality jobs, or incorrect exercise techniques. If your pain persists, however, you may be suffering from a common complaint called plantar fasciitis. Read on to discover all the warning signs and causes, and determine if a trip to the physio is in order.

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia – a band of connective tissue that spans the sole of your foot, from the ball to your heel. As opposed to generalised foot pain, plantar fasciitis pain is mainly felt under the heel and can be quite sharp. However, you may also feel an ache throughout the sole of your foot. The condition is often worse during the first few steps after waking up, or after prolonged periods of sitting or standing. It can improve during activity or exercise, only to flare up afterwards.

Who does it affect?

People who are quite active but have tight calves or lower leg muscles, or a stiff ankle from previous ankle sprains are more prone to plantar fasciitis. It is also more common in the elderly, those who are overweight, during pregnancy, or in those with arthritis or flat or high arches. People who spend a lot of time on their feet in inappropriate footwear may experience chronic heel pain. Poor biomechanics and sporting techniques can also exacerbate plantar fasciitis.

What are the treatments for plantar fasciitis?

Prevention is always better than a cure, and you can definitely take steps to prevent plantar fasciitis from keeping you off your feet. This starts with by identifying your risk factors, such as tight muscles, poor biomechanics, or poor footwear, and taking active measures to address these.

Once it occurs, plantar fasciitis can be relieved with ice, anti-inflammatories, taping, and sometimes cortisone injections. Your physio will be able to treat the condition with soft tissue massage, and educate you on beneficial stretches for any muscle tightness. He or she can provide you with tools to improve your biomechanics, and strengthen your foot, core and lower limb muscles. A physio or exercise physiologist can assist you to improve your sporting technique, as good form may reduce further flare ups.

For feet to function at their best, appropriate footwear is essential. And, if you require extra arch support or heel cushioning, you may need to see a physio or podiatrist to have orthotics made.