Plantar Fasciitis – What Is It & What Works?

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is most commonly associated with pain in the dense, broad tissue across the sole of the foot (known as the plantar fascia).

Facts on plantar fasciitis

  • More than 1 million visits per year to US physicians are because of pain in the sole of the foot
  • Plantar fasciitis can happen to both sedentary and athletic people
  • It happens twice as often in women as it does in men
  • Is believed to be caused mainly by repeated microtrauma from chronic overload (lifestyle or exercise)

Risk factors for plantar fasciitis include:

  • Occupations that require prolonged standing
  • Poor footwear (Come to our Foot Health lecture on February 3rd!)
  • Weakness in the foot muscles
  • Decreased ankle range of motion
  • Flat feet
  • High arches

Physical therapy is the preferred treatment for plantar fasciitis and includes instruction in specific stretching and exercise, manual techniques and education about footwear and changes to activity.

Several studies have found that specific stretching and strengthening is helpful for plantar fasciitis. One study looked at a group that was using a standing stretching technique for the Achilles tendon and a group that was stretching the sole of the foot (the plantar fascia) in a sitting position. After 8 weeks, those who were stretching the plantar fascia while sitting had better patient satisfaction, less pain and were able to do more. But, two years later when the researchers followed up with these same study participants, they found that those participants who were doing the seated stretch to the sole of the foot remained improved AND that those who were doing the standing stretch to the Achilles tendon had also improved. Another group of studies indicate that the painful tissues in the sole of the foot have decreased blood flow and this makes healing the tissues difficult. Specific physical therapy exercises can be used to put tension through the plantar fascia tissue to stimulate healing of the tissues.

Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is made worse by standing and walking for long periods, especially in poor footwear.  Physical therapy provides education specific to each client to help them make changes to their specific activities. Clients also receive recommendations for changes to footwear such as arch supports to reduce stress on the sole of the foot and shoes with thicker, well cushioned soles. Foot pain often changes how you walk and this can cause tissue tenderness, pain and tissue imbalances in the legs. Manual techniques can be used to address the tissue tenderness and pain associated with foot pain and the tissue imbalances from changes in walking.

Plantar fasciitis is a debilitating condition which can take a long time to heal, often 6-18 months. New Heights Physical Therapy can provide targeted treatment and education to promote healing of tissues and faster return to normal function.