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How to treat plantar fasciitis

How to treat plantar fasciitis

Whether the athletes taking part in the Commonwealth Games have inspired you to take up a new sport, or you spend a lot of time on your feet already, it’s easy to forget how much we ask of our feet until there’s a problem.

Hopefully you’ve managed to avoid any injuries but if Plantar Fasciitis (a pain on the bottom of your foot, around your heel and arch) is something you suffer with, you're not alone. Did you know that 1 in 10 people in the UK will suffer from the condition at some point in their lives?

In this article our Sports Medicine Podiatrist - Mr Liam Stapleton - will help you recognise the onset of plantar fasciitis, identify possible causes, debunk a few myths and talk about how to access treatment for plantar fasciitis at Benenden Hospital.

What is plantar fasciitis?

Some people will remember exactly when and where their pain caused by plantar fasciitis started, even many years later, and this could be a sign of a plantar fascia tear, which may need treating differently.

True plantar fasciitis will appear gradually. Almost always it begins with pain in the heel of one foot when you first stand after getting out of bed. Generally, it eases off with activity and returns with rest. As things worsen, you’ll spend more and more time in pain and may start walking with a limp.

Feelings of numbness, pins and needles or electric shocks could be a sign of a pinched nerve and should be assessed professionally.

What causes plantar fasciitis?

This question is often overcomplicated by sufferers on online forums when it’s quite simple: plantar fasciitis can be caused by doing too much too soon after too long doing too little!

So, what does this mean? In a nutshell - too much exertion, too quickly. Either you’re a fitness enthusiast who has suddenly increased the amount or type of exercise you do without taking the time to acclimatise. Or perhaps you have a more sedentary lifestyle or have put on weight over Christmas and want to get fit in time for summer.

Every part of our body needs to adapt and grow stronger as we increase our activity. If your plantar fascia starts complaining, it was just the weakest link in the chain. Just as if your kneecap tendon or your Achilles were the weakest link, they would complain first!

But there are some other factors to consider. If you already have a weakness, these may be the final straw:

  • Old worn-out trainers: running shoes have a life span of up to 500 miles, you need new ones regularly
  • Unsupportive shoes: ballet pumps or flip flops aren’t designed for walking any great distance. Pick the most appropriate shoes for your chosen activity
  • No pain no gain? Don’t run until it hurts, make gradual increases in training load, be deliberate and calculating about it. It’s recommended that you only increase your training by 10% per week
  • Tight calves: evidence suggests that when calves are tight enough to restrict ankle movement this increases plantar fascia tension
  • Poor big toe movement: this can be either functional or structural, but it will lead to compensation during gait
  • People believe a flatter foot will cause plantar fasciitis, but nearly as many people with high-arched feet suffer too

What’s the treatment for plantar fasciitis?

There are many treatments and self-help regimes everywhere for plantar fasciitis. These generally fit into one of two categories:

Pain killers and anti-inflammatories are the most obvious way to relieve symptoms. And most stretches, all forms of massage (no matter how vigorous), icing, rolling on frozen bottles or spiky balls, taping and arch supports or most orthotics only offer short-term symptom relief.

Repair and recovery

Repair and recovery are best achieved by identifying what caused the plantar fasciitis in the first place and reducing it (not necessarily stopping altogether). Then gradually day by day, you should perform strengthening exercises to increase your tolerance to activity for future.

Remember, good nutrition and good sleep all improve recovery. We also know smoking and too much alcohol decrease your body’s ability to repair. So, make improving your diet and lifestyle a priority.

Some people will still need some professional help. Injections used to be the preferred choice, but these now should only be done on specific cases and ultrasound-guided for accuracy. Platelet-rich plasma injections offer an alternative, encouraging tissue to self-repair and regenerate.

However, shockwave therapy (also known as Extracorporeal Shockwave Treatment or ESWT), which uses a special device to pass impulses of energy through the skin to your injury is now the go-to treatment, curing 75-80% of patients in only three applications.

Commonwealth Games

The Commonwealth Games takes place every four years and this year it will take place in Birmingham from Thursday 28 July to Monday 8 August 2022. The Commonwealth Games, also known as the Friendly Games, is an international multi-sport event involving athletes from the Commonwealth of Nations. To get even more inspired visit the Birmingham Commonwealth Games website.

How to access treatment for plantar fasciitis at Benenden Hospital

Our podiatry service offers a full range of diagnoses and treatments – including preventative care – for problems affecting your feet.

Our experts will create a specific treatment plan just for you and – with speedy diagnosis and treatment in one place – you can get back to training as quickly as possible.

You can book an appointment online or contact our Private Patient team via Livechat or by calling 01580 363158.

Published on 28 July 2022