Plantar fasciitis is by far the most widespread cause underlying heel pain. The plantar fascia is a ligament, a flat band of tissue, and it connects your heel bone at the back of your foot to your toes at the front of your foot. It also supports your arch, the part of your foot that never actually touches the ground.
People can strain their plantar fascia. When this happens, it gets weak and swollen. Common symptoms also include irritation and inflammation. This means in practical terms that your foot can start seriously hurting when you stand or try to walk.
But not to fear, for this is a common cause of foot pain, especially among middle-aged people. It may also occur among some younger people, especially if you’re on your feet a lot. This uncomfortable inflammation is especially common among athletes and soldiers. It doesn’t have to be both feet, either—often, plantar fasciitis occurs in just one foot, but it can also occur in both.
Plantar fasciitis is caused by over-stressing that ligament as it supports the arch of your foot. If you strain it over and over again, you may create tiny tears in the ligament. This can lead to lots of swelling, and a painful sensation in your foot.
Some of the common causes of plantar fasciitis include:
- Excessive pronation, or “rolling” your feet inward.
- High arches and flat feet.
- You run or walk on hard surfaces frequently and for extended periods of time.
- Obesity, or being overweight.
- Wearing worn-out or poorly-fitted shoes.
- Tight calf muscles or Achilles tendon.
Most of the people who are experiencing the symptoms of plantar fasciitis experience the pain when they take their first steps in the morning, right after they get out of bed. Or, you may feel it after you sit for a long time. A little walking around can get rid of the pain. But your foot may hurt more and more as the day goes on. Especially when you try to walk up stairs, or if you have to stand still for an extended period of time.
If you feel pain in your foot during the night, this is a sign of a different problem, rather than plantar fasciitis. Most likely, you are suffering from arthritis, or a nerve problem—it might be something like tarsal tunnel syndrome.
Go see your doctor about this. He’ll examine your feet, and have you walk around the office a bit. He’ll probably also ask some questions similar to the following.
- Medical history, including foot injuries and prior illnesses.
- The time of day when your foot hurts the most, and where you feel the pain most acutely.
- Your physical exercise regimen, or how much physical activity your normal day involves.
If the doctor suspects that the problem is something else, like a stress fracture in your foot, she may take an x-ray, as well.
Plantar fasciitis is a big problem among runners, especially if you run long distances on pavement or sidewalks, have high arches or flat feet, or use improperly fitted running shoes.
There is really no magic bullet that can deal with the symptoms of plantar fasciitis as far as picking the right running shoe, but there are some things you can take into account to help you deal with the pain.
While it’s important you get the best running shoes possible for plantar fasciitis (see below for more information on picking the best running shoes for plantar fasciitis for both men and women), if you’re already experiencing the symptoms, it’s important you take the right steps to make sure that you also stretch your feet and deal with those symptoms directly, before you go running around in any kind of shoes.
While most people normally experience pain in only one foot, it’s good to do these exercises for both feet. It’s better to prevent the problem than having to deal with it at all, if you can help it.
Do these stretches first thing in the morning, right after you get out of bed. Also do them three times throughout the day, to make sure the effects build up over time and help fight the inflammation.
Achilles Tendon Stretch: Stand flat on the ground. Put one foot behind the other foot, pointing the toes of the rearward foot toward the heel of the frontward foot. Lean against a wall. Bend the knee of the leg in the front, and keep your back knee as straight as you possibly can. Also keep the back heel planted firmly on the ground. Hold like this while you count to ten, then switch your feet around and do the same thing for another 10 count.
Plantar Fascia Stretch: Sit down, placing one foot across the opposite knee. Using the hand on the same side as the raised foot, pull your toes toward your shin, stretching your arch. This stretches the ligament. If you touch the bottom of your foot during this exercise, you should feel tension running through the length of the bottom of the foot.
Best Running Shoes for Plantar Fasciitis
You might be trying to get over your plantar fasciitis, or you might be trying to prevent ever having to deal with it. Either way, finding the best running shoes for plantar fasciitis can be a major part of dealing with or preventing those symptoms.
In general, running shoes are a very personal choice, and you need to pick something that suits your specific foot shape. But these general pointers will help you find a shoe that works for you.
Get a pair of shoes that has what is called a stiff heel counter. This means that the back of the shoe, where it fits against your heel and the back of your foot, should be firm, and very snug. If you heel slides up and down, your shoes doesn’t fit right. And ensure that your shoe is highly flexible. To test this in a store, bend the toe of the shoe upwards towards the heel. It should bend easily, and the bend should fall roughly where the ball of your foot will sit, not in the middle or back towards the heel.