If you've found this article, you or someone you care about is probably dealing with daily foot pain. While there is the normal variety of reasons why a foot might heart, in the online world, you will find that the terms "foot pain" and "plantar fasciitis" are treated as direct synonyms. Articles about foot pain almost always include this condition and those who suffer from it find themselves doing a lot of internet searching. The reason for this is because plantar fasciitis is the most common reason for a foot to hurt without an obvious cause like a recent injury and for long-term foot pain that doesn't go away within a usual recovery time. If you, a friend, or a loved one has been experiencing sharp foot pain along the bottom and heel of one or both feet every time you step down, chances that the cause is plantar fasciitis.

Woman stretching her legs, grabing her feet

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

To understand this condition, it's important that you have an idea of how the inside of a foot works. Your foot is a marvel of organic engineering made up of 26 bones, 33 joints, and more than 100 muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The entire structure is designed to not only support your weight but also to keep you on balance and hold your legs at an angle that is good for your posture. This is done through tension created by a thick band of tissue known as the plantar fascia which connects to the base of your toes, wraps around the underside of your heel, and connects to the muscles in your calf.

This is what holds your foot arch aloft to provide shock absorption. If it is loose, then you are more likely to have flat feet, also known as collapsible arches or pes planus. If it is too tight, you will have high arches, also known as pes cavus. Both conditions make you more susceptible to Plantar Fasciitis.

The condition itself occurs when your plantar fascia becomes agitated, inflamed or stretched too far, often as a result of heavy steps and repetitive impacts. This means that the condition is more common in athletes who run, people who go barefoot or wear insufficiently supportive shoes, and people who are overweight, as each situation will tend to put more wear and tear on the bottoms of your heels where the impact is most likely to occur.

Why Plantar Fasciitis Hurts

For most people who develop plantar fasciitis, the actual cause doesn't really hurt. You perceive it as your normal walking or running activities. The problem is that each impact does a little bit more damage. Plantar fasciitis happens when you do enough cumulative damage that you can finally start to feel the negative results. What most people don't realize is that this comes in two forms, stretching out your arches pressure or impacts on the heel from insufficient cushioning.

The pain from plantar fasciitis occurs only after the band of tissue starts to swell from the damage. This swelling creates tenderness and pressure in the foot that becomes intolerant to additional pressure. The problem is that unlike normal muscles and tendons, plantar fascia doesn't stop swelling or heal from damage the same way. In fact, for many people it never returns to an undamaged state no matter how gently you treat your feet or how little you try to walk, though you can reduce the symptoms with time and treatment. This means that your plantar fascia remains inflamed and the condition gets worse when other conditions cause further tightness or impacts.

Why It Hurts More after Resting

For most injuries, resting is the ideal way to recover and encourage the tissue to heal. However, if you suffer from plantar fasciitis, you have probably notice that it actually tends to hurt more after sleeping or long periods of sitting and keeping off your feet. The reason for this is because the plantar fascia is connected to the calf muscle which tightens when you rest, thus pulling the plantar fascia tighter as well. When your plantar fascia is both swollen and pulled too tightly, each step results in a greater impact and you may experience pain from pulling the taut tissue.

Fortunately, you can reduce the pain of these first few steps by taking a moment or two to stretch out your calves and the bottoms of your feet before rising. You can straighten your legs and flex your toes back for a simple stretch or lay the affected foot over the opposite knee then stretch and roll it manually with your hands. It may also help to massage the bottom of your foot to warm up and relax the plantar fascia.

How to Cope with Long-Term Plantar Fasciitis

Some people are lucky enough to experience a mild bout of plantar fasciitis that goes away after a few weeks but the vast majority of people with this condition will be wrestling with it for the rest of their lives. The good news is that it doesn't have to hurt this bad all the time. There are a variety of solutions and methods to deal with plantar fasciitis that can make your experience more comfortable and even encourage some recovery of the stressed tissue over time.

Wear Shoes with Sufficient Arch Support

One of the biggest causes and aggravators of plantar fasciitis is shoes with hard bottoms and no arch support. Whether or not you've had foot problems in the past, if the bottoms of your feet and heels hurt now, this means you haven't been treating your feet with sufficient care. Make sure to wear shoes that support your arches and fully cushion each step so that your steps neither land hard on the inflamed plantar fascia nor do you have a chance to cause more than a reasonable amount of arch stretching with each step.

Stretch Daily

Part of the problem with this condition is that any shortening of the tissue, your calf muscles, or your Achilles tendon can make the pain and damage greater. However, with persistent and careful stretching, you can you can warm up and lengthen each piece until the tension in your foot is close to comfortable again. Lunges keeping your heel flat on the ground will stretch both your Achilles tendon and the plantar fasciitis while careful squats with one foot ahead of the other and bracing yourself can stretch the calf and plantar fasciitis. You can also manually roll your ankle and flex your foot while sitting and massage the painful area gently.

Use PF Tape to Add Foot Support

One of the reasons plantar fascia is so difficult to deal with is because it is your foot arch, something you need to walk around and remain balanced. What many people don't realize is that you can find a special kind of foot brace made specifically to support a foot that needs external arch support in the form of tension rather than a cushioned shoe insert. This is known as PF tape (the PF stands for plantar fasciitis), and it looks like a cross made of wide bandage tape. To use it, lay the long piece along the bottom of your foot from the base of your toes to up around your heel and the short piece across the middle of your arch and up around the sides of your foot. This can effectively take some pressure off your plantar fascia and relieve a great deal of the pain.

Ice for 20 Minutes Three Times a Day

If the pain is really getting to you and especially if your feet hurt even when you're not up and walking around, it's important to remember that the pain of plantar fascia is caused mostly by swelling. This means you can treat it, to a certain extent, like any other swelling injury like a sprained ankle or a bad bruise so ice works reasonably well to reduce the symptoms. Put a handful of ice in a plastic bag then wrap the bag in a hand towel. this will allow you to ice the area and protect the skin. Ice for no more than 20 minutes three to four times a day.

Anti-Inflammatory Medication

Plantar Fasciitis is, essentially, an inflammation that just won't quite go all the way down. Even if you're used to dealing with swelling injuries in a stoic fashion or with home remedies, you may want to look into a few over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. For many people, a mild anti-inflammatory combined with regular stretching and a little PF tape makes all the difference between walking on glass and being able to get around comfortably during the day.

Don't Forget to Get Plenty of Rest

As our final tip, while plantar fasciitis may be a persistent condition, it's important to remember that you are still dealing with what amounts to an activity-based injury. The more stress you put on your plantar fascia, the more likely it is to flare up into an increasingly painful state. Fortunately, this is a good excuse to keep your feet up, wear comfortable shoes, and delegate running around tasks to people with working heels and arches. While you're living with plantar fasciitis, do your best to treat your feet well, ice if you need it, and wear PF tape to keep the pressure off of your agitated plantar fascia.