Plantar Fasciitis Causes, Symptoms, and Relief

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that connects your toes to your heel and supports the arch of your foot. Excessive stretching or straining of the plantar fascia results in tiny tears in the tissue, causing the painful inflammation that's otherwise known as plantar fasciitis.

Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms

The most commonly reported symptom of plantar fasciitis is a sharp or stabbing pain in or near the heel, though it can also be felt in the arch of the foot. The pain is usually worse after exercise though not during activity.

People with plantar fasciitis experience pain that can be particularly bad first thing in the morning and after extended periods of foot immobility (such as sitting, lying, or even just standing). While it may seem counter-intuitive that these periods of rest would irritate plantar fasciitis, the pain is actually a result of the plantar fascia mildly re-tearing itself after beginning to heal in a shortened position that's common for standing, sitting, or lying down. This perpetual "re-injury" is part of why plantar fasciitis can take so long to fully heal.

Of course, the tendency of humans to be on their feet so often is another factor that lends to the nagging nature of plantar fasciitis. Fortunately, you don't have to resign yourself to months of bed rest to get relief from plantar fasciitis. Below we've outlined several meaningful changes to your footwear and habits that can yield immense relief. As always: Consult with your physician prior to embarking on any major health or fitness endeavors!

plantar fasciitis anatomy

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

For a long time, professionals believed that people with flat feet or low arches were the primary sufferers of plantar fasciitis, but recently it's coming to light that many people with high arches are also dealing with plantar fasciitis. This may be because both arch extremes put more stress on the plantar fascia than normal/medium arches.

Additionally, those with low arches tend to overpronate (roll their feet inward too much) and those with high arches tend to underpronate (roll their feet outward too much), adding even more pressure to the plantar fascia with each step.

Footwear is a common culprit of plantar fasciitis, with unsupportive shoes putting unnecessary strain on the plantar fascia. Inadequate arch support, flimsy soles, high heels, and shoes that are old and worn-out can all lead to plantar fasciitis if worn too often.

Certain activities can also cause plantar fasciitis, including long-distance running, ballet, aerobic dance, and any other sport that puts a lot of stress on your heels.

People who spend long periods of time on their feet are also more susceptible to plantar fascia issues, especially if they're standing on hard surfaces like concrete. Nurses, factory workers, teachers, and so on should be particularly mindful of their footwear.

Other risk factors include being female, being between the ages of 40 and 60, having tight Achilles tendons, and being overweight. While none of these factors guarantee that you will develop plantar fasciitis, it's important to keep your own personal risk factors in mind when choosing footwear and activities.

How to Treat Plantar Fasciitis

If you suspect you have plantar fasciitis, don't ignore it or try to "push through" the pain. Leaving it untreated will only make your road to recovery longer and more painful, so get checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible! In the meantime, make sure you're wearing supportive footwear and paying close attention to your stride; oftentimes people overcompensate when they have an injury, and you don't want plantar fasciitis to lead to knee, hip, or back issues.

Your doctor will be able to give you a detailed treatment plan that's specific to your unique circumstances. Your treatment should factor in the biomechanics of your feet, your gait, your activity level, and more to make sure you're on the right track to recovery. While rest is highly encouraged for plantar fasciitis, it's unrealistic to expect anyone to remain off their feet for months as the injury heals. That's why even the most effective treatment plans can take anywhere from 6 to 12 months to achieve maximum results. Be patient with yourself and don't try to rush the process.

Common treatments include rest, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen, physical therapy, splints and braces, ice, and orthotic inserts. Severe cases may require more aggressive options such as injections, shock wave therapy, ultrasonic tissue repair, or even surgery.

The most crucial part of recovering from plantar fasciitis is to support your arches and heels. Not only can reducing stress on your plantar fascia ease your pain, it may even shorten your recovery time. Experts advise against going barefoot when possible—especially on hard surfaces.

Avoiding flimsy, unsupportive shoes and high heels will also help. Ideally, you would be wearing some sort of supportive footwear whenever you're on your feet, so you may want to consider keeping a supportive pair of slippers or slides next to your bed too. Replace any old, worn-out shoes that are no longer providing proper support.

Address all of your shoes, not just your athletic shoes. Inserts can be added to your dress and casual shoes, and there are a number of appropriate sandals and slides available for people with plantar fasciitis as well.

Plantar Fasciitis Shoes

The best shoes for plantar fasciitis are ones that provide premium arch support. Opt for shoes with thick soles and a lot of cushion to ease the pain you may experience when on your feet. The goal of plantar fasciitis shoes (athletic, casual, and dress) is to evenly distribute pressure across your feet so the plantar fascia is not overly taxed. In addition to replacing your shoes regularly to avoid making your foot pain worse with worn-out shoes, consider rotating your shoes often to avoid repetitive stress on your feet, which can make existing pain and pressure worse.

It's quite easy to find running shoes and walking shoes that offer the arch support and cushioning you need to ease your plantar fasciitis symptoms, but when it comes to dress and casual shoes, you may want to opt for arch supports, heel cups, or insoles to get the support and comfort you need when you can't wear athletic shoes.

Running Shoes for Plantar Fasciitis

When selecting a running shoe to help with plantar fasciitis, first consider your arch height and gait. If you have a higher, more rigid arch and tend to supinate/underpronate (your foot rolls outward too far when you walk or run), you'll want to find a shoe that is very well-cushioned and a bit more on the flexible side, but still with some stability. If you have a low arch or flat foot and tend to overpronate (your foot rolls inward too far when you walk or run), choose a cushioned shoe that is a bit more rigid so that you get the support you need.

When we fit people for plantar fasciitis shoes in the store, we first ask if they already have an orthotic—either from their podiatrist or off the shelf. Folks who already have an orthotic actually need a neutral shoe because the orthotic will do a lot of the work—making them less dependent on the shoe for all of their support.

Sandals for Plantar Fasciitis

Sandals and slides often get a bad reputation for not being supportive, but that's really only the case if you're talking about those cheap, flimsy ones you see flopping across the beach or pool deck. Many brands make high-end sandals for plantar fasciitis that offer the support, stability, and cushioning you need to soothe your inflamed fascia.

When choosing sandals for plantar fasciitis, look for the right amount of arch support for your anatomy, a deep heel cup for added support, and a thick, comfortable base for all-day comfort.

Shoes to Avoid

Any shoes that don't allow your plantar fascia to evenly distribute your weight are a bad choice. This includes shoes with little to no arch support, high heels, and shoes with thin, flimsy soles. Avoid minimalist shoes and going barefoot on hard surfaces when possible, too.

Support Garments

Whether you want to make your favorite pair of shoes more fascia-friendly or you want some extra support while you rest, you can count on support garments like braces, sleeves, socks, insoles, and heel cups.

Plantar Fasciitis Braces

For use under your regular shoes or for wearing when you're relaxing around the house, plantar fasciitis braces offer a perfect combination of compression and support. A snug fit ensures that these braces and sleeves will reduce swelling and inflammation while the increased arch support provides pain relief and optimal stress/weight distribution.

Plantar Fasciitis Socks

Perfect for adding a little extra support and compression, plantar fasciitis socks can be paired with plantar fasciitis shoes or insoles for an extra layer of comfort.

Plantar Fasciitis Inserts

Whether you have a favorite pair of shoes you just can't part with, or you simply don't want to shell out big bucks on several new pairs of shoes, you can still take care of your feet with plantar fasciitis inserts and heel cups. Inserts offer the arch support you need to distribute your weight more evenly, which reduces the pressure on your plantar fascia. When choosing plantar fasciitis inserts, be sure to opt for a firmer option with substantial arch support.

Heel cups are another great option; raising your heel relieves tension on your plantar fascia, and heel cups provide an extra dose of stability as well as comfortable cushioning.

Therapeutic Options

Your doctor or physical therapist will most likely have some specific stretches and exercises for you to do in order to relieve pain and improve mobility. While active stretches and exercises generally tend to be among the most effective ways to heal plantar fasciitis, you can get a lot of relief from passive stretching and tissue manipulation as well.

Plantar Fasciitis Night Splints

Using a plantar fasciitis night splint is a great way to keep your fascia and Achilles tendon stretched while you sleep. Designed to keep your foot at a 90-degree angle, night splints prevent your fascia from shortening overnight, which is a contributor to pain and lengthens the healing process.

Plantar Fasciitis Pain Relief

In addition to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen, your doctor may recommend that you ice the afflicted area for immediate pain relief. Self-myofascial release (SMR) is another simple, inexpensive way to get relief at home. Using massage balls on your plantar fascia can help release tightness and encourage blood flow, helping to reduce pain and foster healing.

Plantar fasciitisRunningRunning shoes