There was a time not so long ago when hardly anyone outside the medical community had heard of plantar fasciitis. Today, it’s becoming well-known. The running community has grown, which also increases the number of patients with plantar fasciitis. It’s also becoming prevalent in the food service sector, as food servers and other people who are mostly on their feet for the whole day tend to develop this condition. The problem, however, is that most people nowadays get their plantar fasciitis facts online. And the “facts” you read on the Internet aren’t always accurate.
So to help you get a more accurate picture of what this medical condition is all about, we’re going to debunk some plantar fasciitis myths that have persisted online and in the real world:
1. If you have heel pain, then you have plantar fasciitis. This belief is becoming so common that quite a few people automatically equate heel pain with plantar fasciitis. It’s a good guess, admittedly, as about 70% of the time it really is plantar fasciitis if you’re an adult.
But that leaves you with a 30% chance of being wrong. It may actually be tendonitis, or a torn foot ligament. It may even be a problem with a joint, or even with the nerves. The foot has so many soft tissues, joints, and nerves that basically any one of these things can cause the problem instead.
And for children, plantar fasciitis is rare. If you’re playing the odds (and you shouldn’t, so see a doctor), it’s probably calcaneal apophysitis. It’s an inflammation of the child’s growth plate in the heel, instead of the inflammation of the plantar fascia.
2. The cause of the heel pain isn’t important. All you have to do is to apply the RICE treatment (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) and take some pain relievers for the pain, right?
Not so fast. Each medical condition requires its own treatment. A treatment for one medical condition may not be the best choice for another. It may even be the worst choice! Misdiagnosing the cause of the pain can delay your recovery, and while you delay things can get much worse in the meantime.
That’s why it’s crucial that you see a doctor so the correct diagnosis and treatment can be given. This is especially true if your home remedies aren’t working for the last few weeks.
3. It’s really a minor problem. So it’s not fatal. But if left untreated, it can lead to many years of pain and disability. If you’re an athlete, being sidelined can lead to a deep depression, and in rare cases that can lead to suicidal thoughts.
4. Stretching is bad for the inflamed plantar fascia. This is one of the more popular plantar fasciitis misconceptions among those who have suffered torn ligaments and fractures. After all when you have a broken bone and torn ligaments, the last thing you want to do is to stretch the affected area. You’ll just make the condition worse, and the pain also increases.
The truth of the matter is that stretching is actually a very common ingredient in the plantar fasciitis treatment recipe. According to the American Orthopaedic Foot & Ankle Society (who should know what they’re talking about), it’s actually the best treatment for the condition. You have to stretch the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia to treat the problem and prevent it from happening.
It is true, however, that you should only do this 3 times a day. You can’t do it too often or you only make the problem worse. You should do it before you get out of bed in the morning, and before you stand after sitting down for an extended period of time.
5. Once it’s fixed, it won’t return. It’s not chicken pox! Of course it can return, especially if you keep on doing the same things that led to the problem in the first place.
So to prevent the problem from coming back, you have to permanently address all the potential causes that led to the problem. Were you using the wrong shoes? Replace them with sturdy shoes that offer proper arch support and lots of cushioning. If you’ve been jogging every day on hard cement and asphalt roads, move to softer ground. If your obesity added to the problem, start working out and counting calories so you can lose weight.
If your doctor recommended stretching exercises, keep doing those even after you’ve already recovered.
6. Only old people develop plantar fasciitis. It’s true that it affects a lot of people in the 40 to 60-year old bracket. But it’s a myth to believe that it’s a problem exclusively for middle-aged people. It’s quite pervasive among the young adults in the military and the food service sector, and children can have this problem too.
It’s why for every age, it’s important that everyone wears proper footwear, and obesity should be prevented.
7. The pain will go away. This is one of the more popular beliefs among parents when their child complains of pain. But when heel pain is involved, it’s hardly the case. And that’s true for plantar fasciitis.
The pain won’t go away, and it can get worse if you leave it untreated. After a while the pain will come even when you’re not on your feet. It will keep you from your regular activities. Some people even change the way they walk to prevent the pain from flaring, and that change can lead to problems in the back, hips, knees, and feet.
8. You develop this condition because you have flat feet. Having flat feet is one of the more common causes of the problem. Having flat feet stretches the distance between the heel and the balls of the feet, so the ligament that connects these parts (the plantar fascia) gets stretched too much and suffers from small tears over time. This problem is called pronation, when you roll your feet inwards.
But blaming flat feet isn’t right all the time, because your fascia can get inflamed even if you have normal arches. And you can have very high arches, and that can lead to supination (the opposite of pronation) which can also lead to plantar fasciitis.
This is one fact you have to remember—there’s no one single cause of fasciitis. It’s most like a combination of several factors that led to the problem. It’s why it is quite prevalent among middle-aged overweight people who run constantly on cement roads while wearing improper footwear.
9. Heel spurs can cause the problem. Since there are so many possible causes, some believe that heel spurs is one of them. A heel spur is a bony protrusion under the heel bone. And it’s true that a lot of people who have plantar fasciitis turn out to have heel spurs too.
But it is not the cause of the plantar fasciitis pain. In fact, out of 20 people with heel spurs, only 1 has foot pain at all. If you have both fasciitis and a heel spur, you can even treat the fasciitis without doing anything for the heel spur at all.
Heel spurs are actually often painless. But if they cause pain, the treatment for it can resemble the treatment for fasciitis. You’ll need customized orthotics, anti-inflammatory medications, and cortisone injections. You’ll have to exercise constantly too. And just like plantar fasciitis, if the initial remedies fail, there are also surgical options.
10. The right shoes will cure the problem. Sure, the right footwear is a crucial part of the treatment for an inflamed fascia. It’s goes with stretching, massaging, pain reliever drugs, rest, and running limitations. But it’s not really true that they’re a “cure”.
Picking the right shoes means getting a pair with the proper support for your arches. And you also need lots of cushioning, because pounding your feet against hard surfaces contributes to the problem. And once you get the right shoes, what you do is simply keep the problem from getting worse.
That’s it. It doesn’t cure the problem, as the damage is already done. It simply halts the progression of the condition while your stretches and massages and the passage of time allows the fascia to heal the tears.
And once you recover, you need to keep wearing these shoes. While they’re not a cure, they’re very effective as a preventive measure. They can cushion your feet well, and keep your feet from rolling inward or outward.
These are just the most common myths you may have read or heard about plantar fasciitis. We haven’t even tackled the “miracle cure” issues online that can supposedly get rid of your problem in a jiffy. You can’t just believe these outrageous claims.
In fact, your most trusted sources of information are doctors and health experts. They’re experienced and educated, and they have the license to prove it. While some reputable websites and publications can give you facts, the advice of your doctor should be the one you should heed.