What is plantar fasciitis?

with advice from Chelsea Cole, PTA
and PhysioFit Physical Therapy

What is plantar fasciitis?

Did you know that your feet are likely to walk as much as 75,000 miles by age 50? Healthy feet are key to a healthy life. Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common orthopedic problems that can wreak havoc on the foot.

On the sole of the foot, the plantar fascia is a thick piece of tissue that runs from the base of the heel to the tip of the toes, along the arch of the foot. When it is inflamed or irritated, the condition is referred to as plantar fasciitis. Its symptoms are typically severe pain along the arch of the foot and the heel.

What causes plantar fasciitis?

People with abnormal foot arches — either flat or high — are more prone to plantar fasciitis, as are those with tight Achilles tendons (the tendon connecting your calf muscle to your heel). More commonly, it is an overuse injury, caused by sports like running or basketball, or prolonged walking or standing. It can also be a result of shoes with poor arch support, or even obesity.

How can plantar fasciitis be treated?

A variety of treatments are available, depending on the severity of the condition.

  • Rest

The first thing your doctor will most likely advise is to avoid being on your feet, reducing or modifying activity for a little while. Apply ice packs and elevate your foot, and take anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen or naproxen, if your doctor approves.

  • Physical therapy

Physical therapists can treat plantar fasciitis in a number of ways.In many cases, rest alone won’t be enough. PTs can treat plantar fasciitis in a number of ways. “A combination of soft tissue massage and modalities, like ultrasound and ice, can have positive effects on the inflammatory process,” says Chelsea Cole, a physical therapy assistant at Clinton Physical Therapy Center (a Physiquality member in Tennessee). A physical therapist can also create an exercise program to stretch and strengthen the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the foot, which is key not only to healing but also to avoid reinjury. Exercises may be done both at the clinic and at home, and some patients may also wear a splint over the ankle to stretch the tissues and reduce pressure on the foot.

  • Orthotics

As plantar fasciitis can sometimes be caused by flat arches, high arches, or other skeletal issues, orthotics or shoe inserts can help to correct the issue. As Chelsea puts it, “Correcting a low arch or supporting a high arch with custom fit orthotics is usually recommended because it addresses the heart and sole of the problem.”

  • Surgery

A small percentage of patients may need surgery if other treatments do not work.Unfortunately, a small percentage of patients (around 5%) may need surgery if the above treatments do not work. This typically involves cutting part of the plantar fascia to relieve tension, but it can also include other procedures. Patients are usually on crutches for a short period of time and follow up with physical therapy to complete the healing process.

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Chelsea Cole, PTA Chelsea Cole, PTA, is a physical therapist assistant at Clinton Physical Therapy Center, a Physiquality network clinic in Clinton, Tennessee. She graduated Summa Cum Laude with her AAS as a Physical Therapist Assistant from Roane State Community College in 2012. Previously employed at a skilled nursing facility, Chelsea found her home in outpatient therapy at Clinton Physical Therapy Center.
PhysioFit Physical Therapy and Wellness is a Physiquality network clinic that services the South Bay area in Northern California. In addition to their clinical physical therapy services, they offer a variety of fitness and wellness programs, including Pilates, gyrotonics, TRX, massage and personal training.

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For further information, look through our selection of articles on foot care, in addition to the below links:

Shoe inserts and orthotics: Are they right for you? Physiquality, October 1, 2012.

Hot or cold? How to decide whether to use heat or ice when treating an injury. Physiquality, May 16, 2012.

Plantar fasciitis. U.S. National Library of Medicine, March 1, 2012.

Physiofit Physical Therapy.

Foot health. American Podiatric Medical Association.

Plantar fasciitis surgery. WebMD, July 14, 2011.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.