Dealing with chronic heel pain can be a real pain in the, well, foot. Diagnosing the true issue behind the source of the pain can be fairly difficult as well without undergoing a proper medical examination. However, a very common culprit is plantar fasciitis – a condition known to cause a stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot near the heel.
Before we find out how to guard against this though, we first need a little biology lesson to understand what we’re dealing with. Welcome to Biology 101.
Biology 101: Plantar fasciitis
As I’m sure you know already, the human body is largely made up of skin, bone, blood, muscle and tissue. This tissue is found everywhere – from the top of your skull, all the way down to the tips of your toes.
Now, talking of toes, there is a large band of tissue that runs all the way from your heel bone to the end of your toes, called the plantar fascia. Its related condition, known as plantar fasciitis is caused by a deformation or tear in this tissue, which later goes on to cause irritation, inflammation and, eventually, chronic pain.
One of, if not, the main problem with plantar fasciitis is that it is a condition that slowly develops over time. While that may sound like a good thing, it isn’t, as it can similarly take a long time to heal – anywhere from a few months to a year. This is because the plantar fascia tissue does not receive a great deal of blood supply, meaning it can take a while for your body to sort out.
That said, there are several things you can do at home to alleviate the pain, before it comes to more invasive treatments like cortisone injections (see below). More on that later though. First, we need to understand why the pain occurs and what causes the tissue to tear.
Source: Sussex Foot Centre
What’s causing the pain? And what are the risk factors?
In the majority of cases, plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury which is typically caused by a sports-related activity involving running or jumping. Many cases also come as a result of previous poor choices of footwear, or abnormal foot mechanics.
Other factors that can increase your risk of developing the condition typically include:
- Obesity as the added weight puts extra stress on your feet and plantar fascia tissue.
- Standing for long periods as standing for several hours can damage the tissue.
- Age as plantar fasciitis is more common in people aged between 30 and 60 years old.
Home-based treatment options
If caught early, plantar fasciitis can be a relatively easy problem to fix, only requiring simple home treatments. However, the success of these treatments very much depends on the severity of the condition, with it taking longer to heal if the pain has worsened over time.
Here are some of our top tips to relieve your pain:
- Invest in good footwear
A pretty obvious solution when you think about it, but having a reliable and comfortable pair of shoes can go a long way to alleviating foot pain. Make sure the footwear offers decent support and are a good fit to your feet. Also try to wear them in and around the house when you can, as walking barefoot or in your socks could stress the plantar fascia out even more.
- Ice, ice, baby
Frozen water is your best friend when it comes to pain, so use it to your advantage. There are two main ways you could do this. You can either roll your foot over a bottle of frozen water for 5 minutes, three times a day. Or alternatively, hold an ice pack to the bottom of your foot for 15 minutes, also three times a day.
It’s also a good idea to get into the routine of using an ice treatment after any extended periods of standing or sitting, or following any strenuous activity.
- Rest and stretch
As plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury, it stands to reason that resting your feet is a key method to aid recovery. That said, it’s also a good idea to combine that period of rest with some daily stretching exercises, in order to improve the plantar fascia’s ability to bear your weight when next up and about.
- Splint it up
For more severe cases of plantar fasciitis, wearing a night splint is recommended. This helps to brace your foot and ankle in the correct position while you sleep, stretching the plantar fascia and helping to ease the pain.
As with most medical conditions, self-help can only get you so far. If these home treatment options aren’t working for you, make sure you talk to your doctor about your problem. They’ll be able to diagnose whether or not it is plantar fasciitis that is causing the problem, and will be able to discuss the treatment options with you in more detail.
Peter Wallace has been an advocate for mental health awareness for years. He holds a master’s degree in counselling from the University of Edinburgh.