According to the American Podiatric Medical Association, April is national “Foot Health Awareness Month,” a great time to pay extra attention to one of the most important body parts- your feet! Having painful or injured feet can affect other areas of your body, such as your knees, hips, and back, making it difficult to properly carry out your daily activities.
This year’s focus is on heel pain, suffered by a reported 40% of the American population, according to a recent survey by the APMA, and probably one of the more common ailments that brings patients into my office. The majority of them have pain due to an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a large arch-supporting ligament on the bottom of the foot, but it can also be a nerve problem, tendonitis, or even a stress fracture. A thorough evaluation, sometimes including Xrays, is the best way to have an accurate diagnosis and focused treatment plan.
Initial treatment for plantar fasciitis includes wearing shoes with good arch support and sometimes orthotics, stretching, icing, and anti-inflammatory medication. A night splint can be very helpful in providing a gentle stretch while you sleep, allowing for proper healing of the fascia and reduction of pain. Within 2-3 nights of use, I hear from patients that their morning tenderness, as well as general pain throughout the day, have improved significantly. It’s an easy, non-invasive way to address the inflammation.
It is rare that plantar fasciitis does not respond to non-surgical measures, but surgery may be necessary in some situations where all conservative measures have failed. I see this more in patients who have had heel pain, to some degree, for many years before seeking treatment. Chronic inflammation of the fascia causes it to become thickened and more difficult to treat. If you have recently started having heel pain, try better stretching, ice, and reducing activity for a couple of weeks. If it does not improve, seek professional help.