If you’ve ever gone to get out of bed in the morning and felt a sharp pain when you tried to place your feet on the floor, almost like there were nails in your heels, the cause may be plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis is essentially an overuse injury, but it’s also associated with tightness in the calves due to a lack of stretching. People from all different walks of life can experience it, including any athlete whose sport involves a lot of running and people whose profession requires them to stand for prolonged periods of time, such as pharmacists. Left untreated it can lead to a plantar fascia tear or bone spur, but fortunately this condition responds very well to conservative treatment so the sooner you get into see a doctor and start a physical therapy program the better. If you’re dealing with plantar fasciitis, here are a few tips that may bring you some relief:
Building flexibility needs to be a regular part of your fitness routine, especially for your calves, hamstrings, and long toe flexors. Stretches should be performed before and after exercise and any time your foot is bothering you. A physical therapist can put together an appropriate home exercise program for you.
Rather than using an ice or gel pack, try immersing your foot in a bucket cold tap water. Gel packs can reach a temperature of 15 degrees below zero, which puts you at risk for an ice burn, but cold tap water is about 32 degrees. You can always add ice to the water as your tolerance grows. I usually suggest that my patients immerse their foot in the water for about a minute and then pull it back out for a minute, for roughly 10 minutes total or 3-5 plunges. A good time is at the end of day, before bed.
Overnight while you’re sleeping, the fluid pools around a bursa (fluid filled sack) near the bottom of the heel while the muscles in the arch of your feet tighten because of the blankets pulling down on your feet. Then when you get up and try to take the first step, the tissues in your feet get a sudden, painful stretch. Doing some self-massage on the arch of your foot with a tennis ball for 2-3 minutes followed by gentle stretching before bed can help reduce morning pain. I also suggest that my patients keep a tennis ball under their desks, so that they can give their foot an occasional massage throughout the day.
Keep it Moving
Both sitting and standing for long periods of time can cause planter fasciitis to flare up, so it’s important to move every once in a while-get up from your desk and stretch your legs, or walk around a bit if your job requires you to be on your feet all day. Drinking lots of water can not only reduce muscle cramping, but it also provides a natural motivator to move when you get up and go to the restroom.
Robert Turner is a physical therapist at the Spine Therapy Center and a Manager in the Rehabilitation Department at Hospital for Special Surgery. He is an APTA certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist and Pilates Rehabilitation Specialist certified through Polestar Education.