The stabbing pain as you swing your legs out of bed to get up in the morning. The shock waves shooting all the way up your leg when you walk. The incessant ache, even when you're standing still. Plantar fasciitis—an inflammation of the connective tissue in your arch and heel—makes normal, everyday activities a real pain in the . . . foot.
Left untreated, the condition can progress from occasional intense discomfort to a level of chronic pain that seriously limits an active lifestyle. When you first experience sharp and recurring pain in your heel, make an appointment with a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) for an accurate diagnosis. If the problem is indeed plantar fasciitis, kicking the condition to the curb won't be instantaneous. But you can rely on the podiatrist for a combination of treatments and exercises that bring welcome relief on the road to recovery.
Pampering, Persistence, and a Perfectly Good Reason to Buy New Shoes
- The first instruction from your podiatrist will be to rest. No running and as little walking and standing as you can get by with might sound boring, but it's necessary to allow the inflammation of your plantar fascia to subside. Use the time to pamper yourself. Watch movies. Read books. Get in some gaming time. Indulge in relaxing conversation time with friends and family—and don't hesitate to ask if you need help around the house for a few weeks.
- Be persistent with the exercises the podiatrist prescribes. These will include stretches for the calves, toes, and ankles to give the muscles and ligaments supporting the arch of your foot more strength and flexibility.
- Stay persistent when the doctor gives you a night splint. The apparatus consists of a sole and straps the podiatrist fits to your foot, ankle, and calf. And it can feel bulky when you wear it to bed. But stick to the regimen, as its purpose is to keep the plantar fascia properly stretched so it can heal.
- Put away the flip-flops, sneakers, and other soft-soled, flexible shoes. Now's the time to shop. Go for athletic shoes or handsome, casual footwear that has sturdy arch support and ample cushioning. The podiatrist may also recommend using shoe inserts for additional cushioning and support.
Pain Reduction Techniques
Your podiatrist is likely to recommend NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) that you can purchase at drug stores and supermarkets. Use these as directed on the label to reduce the pain:
- topical gel or cream that you can rub on your heel and arch.
Place an ice pack on your foot for 10- to 15-minutes increments two or three times a day to ease the inflammation and related swelling.
If the pain does not subside after several weeks of rest, stretching, and other basic measures, the podiatrist may administer steroid shots. The injections go directly into the side of your heel, closest to the painful area, and the pain should subside over the next few days.
Podiatrist's Procedures for Ongoing Pain
Don't lose faith if plantar fasciitis continues to cause recurrent or chronic pain. Your podiatrist has several more techniques to apply to the problem:
Lasers: Low-level laser treatments are gaining popularity as a noninvasive method of stimulating the fascia tissue to promote healing. Depending on the doctor's assessment, lasers are used in conjunction with rest, splinting, and stretching procedures. The treatment may also be used prior to doing steroid shots in some cases.
Surgery: This approach is considered only after all other noninvasive treatment methods have failed. Informally, it's known as plantar fascia release surgery and is designed to remove or surgically release the portion of tissue causing severe pain. It's a typically a day surgery, so make arrangements for transportation and help to get you settled in back home when it's over. You'll need to stay off your foot for about two weeks until the stitches are removed. Then you'll be able to put weight on that extremity and begin building up to normal walking and activities.
To find a podiatrist, visit a website like http://www.westmorelandfootdoctor.com.