Did you know that more than 3 million Americans are diagnosed with one of the most common causes of heel pain, a condition known as plantar fasciitis or “policeman’s heel?” This condition causes a thick band of tissue on the bottom of the foot, connecting the heel bone to the toes, to become inflamed. This typically occurs because of increased wear, degenerative changes, and inflammation throughout the foot’s heel.

As anyone who has practiced sports injury physical therapy can tell you, plantar fasciitis is most common amongst athletes, particularly those that spend a lot of time on their feet, such as runners. People who are overweight or those who wear shoes with a lack of support are also at risk. Fortunately, there are treatment options available to alleviate the pain inflicted by this condition.

Muscle and Bones Affected by Plantar Fasciitis

There are several vital muscles and bones in your foot that become impacted by plantar fasciitis. The main one is the aforementioned tough, fibrous band of tissue called the plantar fascia. This tissue helps support the arch of the foot and plays a huge role in your feet’ everyday function, including the seemingly simple act of walking. Another body part affected by this painful condition is the heel bone, otherwise known as the calcaneus.

Plantar fasciitis can also affect the chief muscle of the calf of the leg, known as the gastrocnemius. This muscle flexes the knee and the foot and is located in the back part of the lower leg. Other muscles and bones associated with the foot affected by plantar fasciitis include the soleus and anterior tibialis.

Causes and Risk Factors of Plantar Fasciitis

Women who are between the ages of 45-64 years of age are the most at risk of getting plantar fasciitis. Individuals are also at risk if they have a body mass index higher than 30 or if their feet have high arches or are flat. It’s worth noting that flat feet are sometimes hereditary and result from a gradual arch collapse over time. Physical therapy for flat feet may help prevent future heel pain.

Wearing high-heeled shoes, standing many hours each day, and repeated stretching and tearing of the plantar fascia are contributing factors to the development of this condition. Other risk factors of plantar fasciitis include:

  • Excessive pronation.
  • Limited flexibility of gastrocnemius and soleus.
  • Changes in frequency and intensity of exercise routine/training. 

Interestingly, doctors initially thought a bony growth called a heel spur caused this pain within the heel of the foot. However, they soon discovered it was the other way around: these heel spurs develop as a direct result of plantar fasciitis.

Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis to Watch For

When a person starts to develop plantar fasciitis, they will experience a stabbing pain at the bottom of their foot near the heel. They also begin to experience increased difficulty walking and standing as the condition worsens. The initial occurrence of strong pain typically happens in the morning after waking up. It can also be triggered by standing up after sitting for a period. Increased pain from this condition is commonly felt after exercising, but not during. The pain typically decreases the more the person moves. Staying active during the day helps reduce discomfort, although it can also cause the condition to exacerbate.

Plantar fasciitis is not the only condition capable of causing inflammation in the heels. Another common culprit is a condition called tendonitis, so named because it affects the foot’s tendons. This inflammatory condition causes pain and tenderness around a person’s joints. Another inflammatory condition similar to plantar fasciitis is bursitis, which is an inflammation of a bursa sac. Bursitis is common among major joints such as the knee or the hip.

What Treatment Options are Available

There are several treatment options for this intense heel pain. Medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium are formulated to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. In more severe cases, surgical procedures may be required.

One of the most effective treatment options is physical therapy.  A trained physical therapist in NEPA can develop a plan to improve your strength, range of motion, and posture, while also decreasing pain to get you back to your prior level of function.  A physical therapist can also create a plan to help you prevent this condition from occurring again. 

Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation treats all orthopedic conditions from head to toe, including plantar fasciitis. Contact us at 570-208-2787 to schedule your appointment today.