Do you experience stabbing pains in your heel when you wake up in the morning? How about after a good run, or a long shift at work where you’re on your feet for hours straight — do you feel that same agony in your heels? If so, you may be suffering from a condition called plantar fasciitis.
Don’t panic! Plantar fasciitis, once diagnosed, can be treated in a relatively simple, non-invasive fashion. Knowing this ahead of time hopefully relieves some stress. Let’s explore the details of this condition, to give you a better idea of whether you have it, and find out what is the main cause of plantar fasciitis.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis (which you can hear pronounced here) occurs when a ligament in your foot called the plantar fascia is inflamed. This thick connective tissue runs from your heel to the front of your foot, and helps to absorb the constant impact shocks from walking, running, and jumping.
Sometimes, our activity levels are too much for the poor plantar fascia. It suffers damage in the form of micro-tears and becomes painfully inflamed. We feel this as intense stabbing pains in and around the heel, particularly after sedentary periods where the fluid is allowed to build up in the heel area.
What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?
So, we’ve established that this malady develops in response to stress upon our feet, but what kind of activities or situations are most likely to lead to it?
According to doctors, the most common cause of plantar fasciitis is “repetitive stress injury.” The following activities are the prime culprits for causing such injuries to your plantar fascia.
Running, especially for long distances, is a sure-fire way to incur repetitive stress injuries on your feet. It is important to note, though, that the likelihood of injury is drastically reduced with proper running form, appropriate shoes, and by increasing your distance only incrementally to allow your body to adjust to the increased demand.
Walking is a lower impact activity, but if you’ve ever had to walk a few miles, you know that it still puts wear on your feet. Hiking, in particular, involves pressure applied to feet in unusual positions, with a greater chance of injury. Walking, or even standing for long periods, on hard surfaces such as cement floors, also causes significant foot strain. The emphasis on wearing the correct footwear applies here as above.
The sort of explosive movements required in competitive activities can cause sudden, severe damage to the unprepared body. You’re not only taking off and changing direction at high speeds, but most common sports involve jumping. It is imperative that you stretch and warm-up before engaging in sports, and that you wear the proper gear for the activity.
Being overweight or obese has a clear impact on foot health. Each additional pound of weight equates to 10 lbs of pressure on your feet! Studies have shown that obese individuals are 1.4 times as likely to develop plantar fasciitis than those at healthy weights. Moreover, those extra pounds cause your shoes to wear out more quickly, shortening the duration of their effectiveness, exposing you to injury.
Your age also plays a role in your susceptibility to plantar fasciitis. Our ligaments degenerate as we grow older, losing a measure of their elasticity and increasing the potential for injury. Plantar fasciitis occurs most commonly in adults ages 40 and above.
What Happens If Plantar Fasciitis Is Left Untreated?
At this point, you have a clear understanding of what this condition is, and the likely ways that it can develop. What happens when someone suffering from these symptoms decides to ignore them? The short answer is: nothing good.
Foot pain causes individuals to change their gait in an attempt to lessen their suffering while walking. This unnatural motion in turn negatively impacts the ankles, knees, hips, and back, potentially creating new chronic conditions in all of these areas.
Ailments specific to untreated plantar fasciitis include the following.
The body has more than one way of protecting the foot from damage. As the injured plantar fascia allows greater impact to the arch of your foot, calcium deposits will be released to provide additional support. These deposits can develop sharp protrusions that stab into the heel and cause great pain. It requires surgery to remove them.
The untreated plantar fascia itself worsens in condition if it is not allowed to heal. The micro-tears can grow, and the resulting loss in the integrity of the ligament can lead to a sudden rupture in response to strenuous activity. This is a painful tear through the ligament, which produces an audible snap and extreme pain bruising. It can take 12 weeks or more to recover, and during a large portion of that time, the foot must be kept immobile and bear no weight.