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Heel pain affects millions of Americans annually. There are many reasons for its occurrence, including Achilles tendonitis and bone spurs; but the most common cause is plantar fasciitis. If not treated, plantar fasciitis can cause acute foot pain and affect the hips and back. But surgery or invasive procedures are not needed to relieve its symptoms. A combination of natural symptomatic relief methods and prevention techniques can go a long way and cost virtually nothing.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia ligament. This is the thick, fibrous band of tissue on the bottom of the foot that runs between the calcaneous (heel bone) and the toes. With each step or action of the foot, the ligament stretches. When plantar fascia becomes stressed, it develops tears that cause pain and swelling. The pain is most often felt under the heel bone.
While generalized tenderness and pain are usually experienced under the heel, many people also experience stabbing and burning pain sensations. Pain is most severe in the morning, getting better as the day progresses and even better at night when you’re off your feet. This symptomatic timeline occurs because the plantar fascia ligament becomes tight as we sleep. When we first awake and begin to walk, the taut band is painful. As the day progresses and blood moves throughout the body, allowing the muscles and ligaments to relax, the pain decreases. However, extended periods of walking or standing can cause the ligament to swell and become painful again.
There are quite a few things that can cause you to experience plantar fasciitis. Athletes and the elderly are most at risk, as are those whose job or vocation requires them to walk or stand for hours at a time.
Athletes place a good deal of stress on the ligament through the dynamic actions of their chosen sporting activities like running, jumping, twisting and dodging. Such repetitive stress over time can cause tears in the tissue that cause irritation, inflammation and pain.
The elderly are susceptible to developing tears in their plantar fascia for three reasons. As we age, we lose flexibility in our muscles and ligaments; but we usually don’t alter our activities to compensate for this change. The tissues are also more susceptible to being overstressed as we age. And certain diseases common among older Americans, like diabetes and arthritis, cause plantar fasciitis through negative autoimmune responses, systemic inflammation and obstructed blood flow to the lower legs and feet.
It’s The Shoes
Wearing wrong-fitting shoes for work, play or social outings is also a common cause of heel pain from inflammation of the planter fascia. Wearing high heels, boots or other poor-fitting shoes causes issues with your gait, the distribution of weight over the heel and foot, stress to the tendons and ligaments, and tears in the ligaments.
Weight is another factor in heel and foot pain. Much of the weight you carry naturally or haul for work or during an activity is absorbed by the heel and distributed over the feet. Too heavy a load placed on your feet over a period of days or months or more can damage the plantar fascia. Pregnant women are also at risk for this same reason, although their extra weight is only temporary.
Finally, some people are born with a predisposition to stressing, irritating and tearing their plantar fascia because of abnormalities such as having flat feet, high arches, pronated feet and an abnormal gait. In these cases, like in athletic activities, over time, the plantar fascia is stressed and stretched past its ability to cope; and it succumbs to tears, inflammation and pain.
As can be seen from these examples, almost everyone is at risk for developing plantar fasciitis at some point in life. Many people have the misfortune of being at risk from several of the causes. The good news is that relief from symptoms is found in easy-to-do techniques and methods that require little to no cost, time or space.
The first line of care for an acute flare-up of plantar fasciitis is to stop your activity, seek some rest, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory (or a natural one like turmeric, arnica or zyflammed) and apply ice to reduce swelling and pain. The goal is to prevent the heel issue from recurring. Let’s look at simple, natural ways to help.
- Stop all activities that cause or aggravate the condition for a period of time ample enough to begin the healing process.
- Apply ice as needed to reduce swelling and reduce pain so you can get through your day.
- Get ample rest to relax the area and for the body to process the inflammation and begin its repair.
- Stretch your calf muscles to take some of the stress off your Achilles tendon and off your foot. This can also help correct foot pronation and your gait.
- Massage your feet (top and bottom) and your calves to increase blood flow and reduce tension and stress in the area overall.
- Wear only proper-fitting and supportive shoes that plant you firmly on the ground and allow for the elastic movement of the plantar fascia. Don’t rotate or tip your pelvis or low back in an effort to keep your posture erect. That means no high heels.
- If you have flat feet or high arches, see a podiatrist to inquire about having an orthotic insert made for your shoe or shoes to help provide the support you need to stop stressing your feet and to help distribute weight properly over the heel and foot.
- If you are overweight, you must change your eating and activity habits to shed those extra pounds. Not only are a sedentary lifestyle and a poor diet bad for your heart and health overall, but dropping pounds reduces the stress on your heels and helps prevent tears and inflammation of your plantar fascia.
Prevention is always the best medicine. If you suffer from acute or chronic plantar fasciitis or generalized heel pain, take the necessary action to stop the things you are doing that cause it. Change your activities, switch shoes, lose weight, get more rest, use natural anti-inflammatory supplements, stretch and massage the area. Use an orthotic if you need one. If all this fails to bring relief in short order, then make an appointment with a podiatrist to have some tests and scans done to see if your heel pain is caused by something other than tears in the plantar fascia. But since plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain, give these remedies a shot to see how you can help yourself feel better.