Our feet undergo a lot of stress, which can lead to significant foot and heel pain. As a board-certified chiropractor specializing in sports medicine, I see many patients with foot and heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis. The condition involves inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is the long, thick band of tissue that runs along the sole of the foot, connecting the heel to the front of the foot.
Below, I discuss several causes, symptoms and treatment options, including chiropractic care, to help you better understand the condition and how to relieve the pain associated with it.
Causes of Plantar Fasciitis
The plantar fascia tissue supports the arch of the foot and acts as a shock absorber when we move our feet. With every step, that tissue is subjected to significant tension as the heel hits the ground, and tiny tears can occur. This can cause inflammation and irritation in the plantar fascia, accompanied by stabbing pain and stiffness on the bottom of the heel.
It’s often unclear exactly how plantar fasciitis occured, but it can be caused by a number of factors, including inadequate footwear or an overuse injury. Other factors that can increase the risk for plantar fasciitis are:
- Age – As we get older, our risk of experiencing plantar fasciitis increases. It most commonly affects people over age 40.
- Foot structure – Flat feet or high arches can mean a higher risk for plantar fasciitis. An unusual gait or walking pattern can cause an uneven weight distribution that is harder on the feet. Tight Achilles tendons, which attach your calf muscles to your heels, also may cause foot pain and stress for your plantar fascia.
- Weight – Excess body weight makes it harder for your feet to support you. Pregnant women or people who experience sudden weight gain may develop plantar fasciitis.
- High-impact activities – Activities that involve your heels can add a lot of strain to the area. Sports-related activities that involve repetitive impact are common contributors to heel and foot pain. Likewise, a sudden increase in activity, such as starting a new walking or running program, can increase your risk of plantar fasciitis.
- Time on your feet – Jobs that require several hours of walking or standing on hard surfaces can damage the plantar fascia.
Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis
The primary symptom is pain on the bottom of the heel that develops over time. Some people experience pain on the bottom and at the middle of the foot. It’s usually most noticeable with the first steps of the day and may return after extended periods of standing, or when standing up after sitting or lying down.
Plantar fasciitis usually affects just one foot, but it can occur in both feet. The pain can be alternately sharp or a dull ache extending outward from the heel. You may also feel a higher level of discomfort when walking barefoot or in shoes with minimal support, like flip-flops.
Plantar fasciitis can often be confused with a heel spur. A heel spur is a calcium deposit that builds up and protrudes from the underside of the heel bone. Although the risk factors for a heel spur are similar to those of plantar fasciitis, heel spurs often do not cause pain or present symptoms unless they cause an injury to the soft tissue.
Tips for Relieving Pain
The following tips may help you relieve heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis:
- Rest – It’s important to keep weight off your affected foot as much as possible when you’re experiencing plantar fasciitis. This means you may need to decrease athletic activities that involve jumping or pounding on hard surfaces.
- Proper footwear – Supportive shoes with thick soles or cushioning can help relieve pain and reduce the stress on your plantar fascia. Silicone heel pads also provide cushioning. You should also consider replacing your athletic shoes often, and avoid high-heels or non-supportive footwear.
- Avoid going barefoot – Without any support, especially on hard surfaces, this can be a serious stressor to the tissue in the bottom of the foot.
- Stretching – Tight muscles in your feet and calves can aggravate the pain of plantar fasciitis. We can provide several stretching and at-home exercises that you can do to help loosen the muscles in your achilles tendon and plantar fascia, as well as to help strengthen your lower leg muscles and stabilize your ankles.
- Ice or cold therapy – Pain and inflammation often respond well to cold therapy. Consider applying an ice pack or rolling your foot over a cold water bottle for 15-20 minutes several times a day. You can also fill a plastic water bottle about three-quarters full, freeze it for several hours, and then roll your foot over the bottle for relief.
Chiropractic Care for Plantar Fasciitis
We offer several treatment options for plantar fasciitis, including:
- Chiropractic adjustments – As a board-certified chiropractor, I can perform adjustments to your feet, ankles, knees, hips and spine to alleviate pressure, allowing you to relax and heal. Realigning the body in this way also helps reduce the risk of further injury and discomfort.
- Corrective exercise – Rehabilitation is an important part of the recovery process following any injury, and it’s a key part of my treatment. When necessary, I can provide specific recommendations to help you regain strength and improve flexibility in the foot, heel and ankle.
- Laser therapy – I’m proud to offer the industry’s leading and most effective Class IV Laser for patients who need it. During treatment, I gently guide the laser over the affected area. The red and near infrared light from the laser helps alleviate pain, reduce inflammation and speed up recovery.
- Soft tissue therapy – Graston Technique® is a type of soft tissue mobilization used at our clinic. During the treatment, I use a stainless steel instrument called a Graston tool to break up scar tissue and fascial restrictions in the foot, heel and ankle. This helps alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.
- Trigger point dry needling – Dry needling is a great treatment option for muscular pain, tension and myofascial dysfunction. The treatment involves gently inserting a thin, dry needle (one without medication) into the trigger point and gently manipulating it until we get a “twitch” response, indicating that the muscle has released.