You may or may not be familiar with the term “plantar fasciitis.” But if your morning routine often involves stabbing pain in your heels immediately after swinging your legs out of bed and putting some weight on them, it’s very likely you’re suffering from its effects!
Plantar fasciitis is the most common foot pain diagnosis we see in adults, and pain underneath the heel first thing in the morning is one of the most typical symptoms. While the pain might be tolerable at first, plantar fasciitis has a bad habit of becoming chronic and more severe the longer you let it go without treatment, and the pain can start to creep into other areas of your life.
Fortunately, we have a ton of experience treating this condition at the Foot Specialists of Long Island, and almost all cases can be resolved using non-surgical methods.
What Is Plantar Fasciitis and Why Does It Occur?
Plantar fasciitis, simply put, is inflammation or tearing in the plantar fascia ligament, a tough and cord-like band of tissue that supports your arch and connects the base of your toes to the underside of your heel.
From underneath, the fascia looks something like a plant trellis—thick where it attaches to the heel, then spreads out to attach to the toe bones. This structure allows your foot to flex naturally to absorb the impacts of each step. However, overuse can gradually damage the fascia over time, leading to chronic pain.
Factors that are linked to a greater risk of developing plantar fasciitis include:
- Age. This condition tends to be most common in middle-aged adults—a sort of “sweet spot” where your tissues might be a little more vulnerable to injury, but you’re still living a fairly active lifestyle.
- Activities. Plantar fasciitis is common among athletes, as well as those who have hobbies or occupations that keep them on their feet.
- Shoes. Wearing footwear that does not properly support your arch often means a greater share of the force loads must be handled directly by the plantar fascia.
- Foot structure. People with flatfoot, high arches, tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles, pronation problems, or other biomechanical issues are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis.
- Obesity. The heavier you are, the greater the strain on the fascia.
How Can I Tell If I Have Plantar Fasciitis?
As mentioned above, the “classic” symptom is pain underneath (or sometimes slightly “in front of”) the heel, particularly with the first few steps of the morning. You may also notice pain when you stand up after a rest period (for example, after watching a movie), or following (but not necessarily during) periods of increased activity.
However, plantar fasciitis is just one form of heel pain, and others can cause similar symptoms. So if you do experience any kind of heel pain, it’s important to make an appointment with the Foot Specialists of Long Island so we can make a diagnosis.
Most of the time, we’re able to make a determination just from a physical examination, as well as discussing your symptoms, medical history, and common activities with you. However, we may recommend further imaging tests if we feel they are necessary to rule out other problems, such as fractures or pinched nerves.
Treatment Options for Plantar Fasciitis
A wide variety of conservative treatments can be effective for plantar fasciitis. Surgery is only required in less than 5 percent of cases.
That said, the optimal treatment strategy will depend on the severity of your injury, as well as the factors that caused it. Possible treatment recommendations may include:
- Pain relief medications and/or steroid injections.
- Physical therapy to stretch and exercise the plantar fascia, as well as connected structures (Achilles, calf muscles, etc.) that may be pulling on it.
- Night splints to keep the plantar fascia and calves stretched while you sleep. (This can greatly reduce the pain you feel from those first few steps.)
- Laser therapy to help accelerate the body’s natural healing mechanisms as well as reduce pain and inflammation. It’s a great choice for active people looking to make a faster recovery, as well as those who prefer a drug-free option for pain.
- Medical-grade inserts (MGIs) to provide immediate support and relief to the arches and feet while you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis. We carry a wide selection at our office, so you can pick these up right at the time of your appointment.
- Custom orthotics may be prescribed, particularly if there is a foot structure or biomechanics problem (such as flat feet or overpronation) contributing to your plantar fasciitis. We can provide you with a set of MGIs to use for a couple of weeks while your custom orthotics are being made; they won’t be quite as good as your custom orthotics, but can still reduce your symptoms significantly in the meantime.
As a last resort, surgery is a possible long-term solution to your pain. However, as detaching the ligament will weaken the arch, it’s not recommended unless all other attempts at treatment have failed. Fortunately, this scenario is only needed in extreme cases—for the vast majority of patients with plantar fasciitis, conservative treatments will ultimately be effective.
Mark Gasparini, D.P.M., has the expertise to help you find the solution to plantar fasciitis and all your other foot problems. Call us at (516) 804-9038 and set up a consultation at our office in Massapequa, NY. We will help you find relief from your pain.