Though they're among the least-exposed areas of our bodies, as we generally keep them snuggled comfortably inside socks or shoes, our feet are also literally under a lot of pressure, which can make them intolerable to a number of painful afflictions. Of the many forms foot pain can take, one of the most potently unpleasant is plantar fasciitis.
The plantar fascia is an apparatus of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot from your heel to the base of each toe, supporting the arch. When this tissue becomes inflamed, the condition is known as plantar fasciitis, and is generally marked by severe pain on the bottom of the heel.
What Causes It?
The most common cause of this affliction is what's called overpronation. Put simply, pronation is a process your feet go through with every step you take: after your heel hits the ground, the foot rolls inward slightly, or pronates, as the bottom of your foot makes contact with the ground to support your body weight and cushion the impact.
Overpronation occurs when this inward roll of the foot is too extreme, concentrating the shock of impact in too small an area rather than distributing it evenly through the foot. Over time, this action can lengthen the arch, which in turn puts tension on and can inflame the plantar fascia.
What Are Some Remedies?
Although it's unquestionably a painful disorder, the good news is that many cases can be successfully treated through very conservative means. The associated foot pain and swelling are often treated by methods no more aggressive than ice packs or over-the-counter medications like aspirin, and future flare-ups can sometimes be pretended simply by means of stretching exercises or the purchase of shoes with proper arch support.
In more stubborn instances, the sufferer may find it beneficial to be fitted for custom orthotics, which can help decrease pain while restoring proper function. A podiatrist may also inject the site of inflammation with corticosteroids, though this approach is often painful. Surgery may also be performed in extreme cases.
One option for patients who have received no relief from other treatments but do not wish to undergo injections or surgery is extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT), a noninvasive procedure in which sonic waves are focused on the area of foot pain, in much the same way that acoustic shock waves can be used to dissolve kidney stones. These waves, it is believed, can stimulate new blood flow to the area, which promotes the healing of damaged tissue. Some clinical studies have shown ESWT to have a 70 percent success rate in treating long-term plantar fasciitis, but at present the FDA has approved its use only for patients who have had the condition for more than six months and have tried at least three conservative treatments without success.
Of course every case is different, so you should never begin a treatment regimen without seeking the advice of a podiatrist. If you suspect you may have plantar fasciitis, contact a podiatrist in your area to determine what is the best way for you to give this condition the boot!