What Is Plantar Fasciitis? The Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, and Treatment Options

Published May 3rd, 2022 by Erik Rivera
Fact Checked by
Jacqueline Hensler
Medically Reviewed:
Chris Riley

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot injury that can cause pain and discomfort.

The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot, and plantar fasciitis occurs when this soft tissue becomes inflamed or irritated.

In this article, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment options for plantar fasciitis and also explore some of the potential complications associated with this condition.

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is a common condition that can cause pain in your heel and the bottom of your foot.

The plantar fascia is a fibrous band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from the heel to the toes and when this tissue becomes inflamed without plantar fascia rupture, it can lead to plantar fasciitis.

The pain from plantar fasciitis is often described as a stabbing pain and is usually worse in the morning when you first get out of bed.

Your pain can diminish after you first start using your feet in the morning although it can come back if you are on your feet for long periods of time.

platar fasciitis image

What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?

The most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is that it can cause foot pain in your heel, known as plantar heel pain, or the bottom of your foot, and is usually worse in the morning.

The plantar fascia can also become swollen and tender to the touch. You may feel like you have a pebble in your shoe or that your heel is being squeezed when plantar fasciitis is present.

The pain from plantar fasciitis can also radiate out into your foot, causing arch pain or general soreness.

You may experience mild or severe pain in your foot depending on the severity of your condition.

What are the causes of plantar fasciitis?

The cause of plantar fasciitis is the overuse of the plantar fascia and it can happen from physical activity that puts a lot of stress on your feet such as running, walking, or dancing.

Plantar fasciitis is not usually caused by heel spurs, which is what doctors used to believe, although heel spurs can be found if you have plantar fasciitis.

What are the risk factors of plantar fasciitis?

There are several risk factors for plantar fasciitis including:

  • Age as it is more common if you are over 40 years old and up to 60 years old
  • Weight as being overweight can put additional stress on your feet
  • Standing or walking for prolonged periods of time and if you have to stand for work you are more likely to develop it
  • Having a certain foot structure such as high arches or flat feet
  • Wearing shoes that do not provide enough arch support
  • Certain exercises such as long-distance running, ballet, and aerobic dancing can all lead to overuse of the plantar fascia
  • Having a tight Achilles tendon, which is the tendon that connects your heel to your calf, can put extra stress on your plantar fascia

If you have any of these risk factors you can talk to your doctor or podiatrist about ways to remedy them to help avoid getting plantar fasciitis.

What are the complications caused by plantar fasciitis?

The most common complication from plantar fasciitis is chronic heel pain that lasts for more than a few months.

If plantar fasciitis is left untreated it can lead to long-term problems such as difficulty walking and chronic pain.

If you don't treat plantar fasciitis, you may change the way you walk to help alleviate the pain which can lead to feet, legs, knees, back, and hip problems.

How is plantar fasciitis diagnosed?

The diagnosis of plantar fasciitis is usually based on your symptoms and a physical exam.

Your doctor may also order x-rays or an MRI to rule out other conditions such as a stress fracture or arthritis.

What are the treatment options for plantar fasciitis?

For the treatment of plantar fasciitis, there are several treatment options that range from nonsurgical treatments to surgical ones. These include:

Nonsurgical treatments

Nonsurgical treatment options are usually tried first before surgery and these include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, which is used in Advil and Motrin, and naproxen sodium, which is the active ingredient in Aleve
  • Physical therapy can help to stretch and strengthen the plantar fascia
  • Custom orthotics which are shoe inserts that support the arch of your foot
  • Wearing a night splint that keeps your foot in a flexed position overnight while sleeping
  • Extracorporeal shock wave therapy, or ESWT, where sound waves are used to stimulate blood flow and promote healing
  • Walking aids such as a walking boot, canes, walkers, or crutches
  • Stretching exercises

Surgical treatments

If nonsurgical treatments don't work, your doctor may recommend surgery.

Surgery is usually only recommended as a last resort and only if you have plantar fasciitis that has not responded to other treatments.

Your surgical options for plantar fasciitis include:

  • Plantar fascia release surgery is the most common surgery and involves the surgical release, or cutting, of part of the plantar fascia to release the tension on it
  • Corticosteroid injection treatment, although technically not surgery these steroid injections are more invasive than the nonsurgical options
  • Gastrocnemius recession surgery involves lengthening your leg muscles, specifically your calf muscle, to release pressure on the plantar fascia
  • Ultrasonic tissue repair involves using ultrasound and a need to break apart damaged tissue that is then removed

After surgery, you will likely need physical therapy and you may be in a walking boot for several weeks.

Are there any home remedies to help with plantar fasciitis?

Your doctor may recommend some home remedies for the treatment of plantar fasciitis such as:

  • Resting your foot
  • Ice therapy which means placing an ice pack or frozen water bottle under your foot several times a day
  • Stretching exercises for your arches
  • Wearing supportive shoes with good arch support and extra cushioning in the sole
  • Not wearing and replacing old, worn-out running shoes and athletic shoes
  • Changing your exercise routine, for example swimming instead of running for an aerobic workout
  • Losing weight if you are obese

Eating a healthy, balanced diet can also help you maintain a healthy body weight and provide your body with the nutrients needed to help heal.

Before trying any of these remedies, it is best to talk to your doctor or podiatrist for medical advice to understand which option may work best for you.

How long does plantar fasciitis last?

The plantar fasciitis healing timeline is different for everyone, but with proper treatment, you can expect to see improvement within a few months.

It's also possible that plantar fasciitis may go away on its own without any treatment.

However, if plantar fasciitis is left untreated it can become a chronic condition or recalcitrant condition that can last for months or years.

Treating plantar fasciitis early is important to prevent it from becoming chronic.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of plantar fasciitis, make an appointment with your doctor or podiatrist to get started on a treatment plan.

Summary

Plantar fasciitis is a common condition that causes pain in the heel and bottom of the foot due to irritation or inflammation of the plantar fascia that can last for months and can even become a chronic condition or recalcitrant plantar fasciitis if left untreated.

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis include heel pain, arch pain, and pain in the bottom of the foot. Plantar fasciitis is caused by overuse and the subsequent injury of the plantar fascia.

There are a number of treatment options, both surgical and nonsurgical options, as well as home remedies that can help alleviate your pain.

If you have any more questions or believe you may have plantar fasciitis, please talk to your doctor, podiatrist, or health care provider for more information and diagnosis.

References and Sources:

NIH

AOFAS

OrthoInfo

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