How to Know if It’s Plantar Fasciitis (or Something Else)

Plantar fasciitis is the world’s most common cause of recurrent foot or heel pain. It affects millions of people worldwide, and can be difficult, if not impossible, to completely eradicate.

Many people, however, jump to the conclusion that they have plantar fasciitis as soon as their foot starts hurting. And there are many culprits here, not just plantar fasciitis. Therefore, it’s good to understand what the specific symptoms are, and how they differ from the symptoms of other similar foot problems (that have very different causes), so you can be sure of what your actual foot problem is, and take the proper precautions or therapeutic measures to make sure your feet are properly taken care of.

Plantar fasciitis is a problem that occurs in the plantar fascia. The plantar fascia is a flat band of tissue, also called a ligament, that connects the bone of your heel to the bones of your toes. Raise your toes as far as they can go, and feel the bottom of your foot. You should feel something tight there. That’s the plantar fascia ligament. It undergirds and supports the arch of your foot. If you get a strain on this all-important ligament, it can become weak or swollen. This can lead to inflammation, and serious irritation in the ligament (and thus, also in you).

People who suffer from plantar fasciitis complain that they feel pain when they stand or walk around.

This disease is most common among the middle aged. It may also show up, however, among younger people. This most often occurs for specific reasons, however: young people who spend a lot of time on their feet are the ones most likely to suffer from the painful symptoms of this aggravating foot problem. In particular, young athletes and soldiers complain of the symptoms of plantar fasciitis most frequently.

You may get it in just one foot, and this is more frequently the case. However, it is not unheard-of, or even uncommon, for you to experience the foot pain associated with plantar fasciitis in both feet.

It has its root cause in a strain on that ligament that’s supporting your arch. As the strain happens over and over again, as tends to happen when you have a lifestyle that involves activities that strain the plantar fascia, you can actually cause tiny tears to appear in the plantar fascia ligament. These are what cause the pain and swelling, and lead to most of the symptoms, and most of the problems.

You’re much more likely to experience plantar fasciitis if any of the following apply to you.

  • You roll your foot towards the inside when you take steps. This is called excessive pronation.
  • Your feet have unusually high arches, or your feet are flat.
  • You stand on hard surfaces for long periods of time. Alternatively, you may experience the symptoms if you walk or run frequently, again especially on hard surfaces.
  • If you are overweight or obese.
  • You frequently wear shoes that are not properly fitted, not snug enough, or that are too worn out to provide proper support.
  • You suffer from an unusually tight Achilles tendon or from tight calf muscles. This can be caused by lots of working out of the legs, as is the case with runners and bodybuilders.

Most people who suffer from plantar fasciitis experience the worst pain right after they get out of bed. Those first steps in the morning, after a long time spent off your feet, can really hurt. Most of the time, people with this problem find that walking around a little bit starts to make that early-morning pain subside, but it often doesn’t go away completely. In fact, some people with plantar fasciitis find that their feet hurt more as the day goes by.

In particular, you may notice especially high amounts of pain as you walk up a flight of stairs, or if you stand in one spot for too much time.

Other Problems

Watch out, however. Not all foot pain is plantar fasciitis. If you experience most of your foot pain at night, while you are trying to sleep, or at other times when you are not walking around or standing, then you likely have a problem that is not plantar fasciitis. Other problems with these symptoms include arthritis in the feet, as well as tarsal tunnel syndrome, and other foot nerve-related medical issues.

Of course, it’s best to go to your doctor if you aren’t sure.

The Doctor

When you do go to the doctor, he or she is going to examine your feet. He or she may also ask you to stand up, and take a few steps around the office, and observe you doing so. Then, you’ll probably hear questions like these:

  • What injuries have you sustained in the past related to your feet?
  • What illnesses have you suffered from, especially any that might have affected your feet?
  • Where do you feel the most pain?
  • At what time of day or during what activities does your foot hurt the most?
  • What do you do for exercise? And what do you do for work?

If the doctor can’t find the problem, or if he or she thinks that you may have a bone problem in your feet, he or she may take an X-ray of your foot just to make sure it’s not a stress fracture, for example.

Treating It

There’s no magic bullet for plantar fasciitis. It’s a lifestyle-associated disease, so it often requires lifestyle changes to deal with the problem and ultimately fix it.

Avoid walking or standing on hard surfaces whenever you can avoid it. If you run to exercise, try running on grass, or some other softer surface.

Do foot stretches every day, or get a foot massage regularly, to help reduce the inflammation in the ligament.
Get properly-fitting shoes. This is a major cause of plantar fasciitis.

If you take the proper precautions before the problem arises, you can avoid these symptoms altogether, and never have to deal with the pain of having your feet hurt constantly.

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