Last week, I had to stand in for the coach at my son’s soccer game. The regular coach, Jeff (father of one of the other kids), could not make it that day, as he had developed sudden heel pain.
So he asked me to take his place. At first, I was a little hesitant, but when he said all I had to do was stand on the sidelines and yell encouraging words at the kids, I agreed.
It was a great experience (our team won!). But after the game, I was curious about Jeff’s sudden pain in the heel.
Jeff told me his doctor diagnosed the problem as plantar fasciitis (also called heel spur syndrome if the heel bone develops a spur). Of course, before arriving at his diagnosis, the doctor ruled out other causes of heel pain, like a stress fracture, tendonitis, arthritis, nerve irritation, and a cyst.
What Is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. Studies estimate that 10% of all people will develop this condition at some point during their lifetime.
As the name suggests, it is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a band-like ligament that extends from the heel to the toes. The fascia first becomes irritated and then inflamed, resulting in heel pain.
The pain is worse early in the morning (upon rising). The pain usually subsides after a few minutes of walking, as walking warms up the fascia and stretches it.
The most common cause of the irritation is faulty structure of the foot—either flat feet or high-arched feet. But the irritation can also be caused by working in jobs that require long hours on the feet, and by wearing non-supportive footwear.
Quick Tips for Heel Pain Relief
The good news is, a reported 90% of plantar fasciitis cases can be healed with conservative, in-home treatments or lifestyle changes. These include:
- Simple stretching exercises
- Not walking barefoot
- Wearing proper footwear
- Placing ice packs on the heels
- Resting your feet at regular intervals
One easy exercise to help your heel pain is to flex your foot up and down 10 times before getting out of bed, or before standing after sitting for a while.
If the pain persists, your doctor might recommend orthotics to cushion your feet while walking, and night splints to stretch your fascia while sleeping. Worst-case scenario, they’ll prescribe a corticosteroid injection for pain relief.
The thing to remember with plantar fasciitis is that the problem can recur, so it might be a good idea to continue with preventive measures like supportive shoes and orthotic devices.
If you ask me, it’s a small price to pay to ensure you don’t miss out on the fun activities in life—like your kid’s soccer game.
Tahririan, M., et al., “Plantar fasciitis,” Journal of Research in Medical Sciences: The Official Journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences, 2012;17(8):799-804; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3687890/, last accessed July 17, 2017.
“Plantar Fasciitis, Heel Spurs, Heel Pain,” Plantar Fasciitis Org; http://www.plantar-fasciitis.org/, last accessed July 17, 2017.