Oh, summertime. Time to slip on your favorite pair of sandals and play around all day in the beautiful sunny weather. But beware – this recipe can lead you into a painful case of plantar fasciitis, the most common foot condition treated by healthcare providers.
What is plantar fasciitis?
The longest ligament of the foot, the plantar fascia runs along the sole of the foot from the heel to the toes. Under normal circumstances, this ligament acts like a shock-absorber, supporting the natural arch of your foot. Whenever our foot bears weight, the plantar fascia naturally tightens. Unfortunately, excessive tension or repetitive stressing of this ligament can cause your plantar fascia to become inflamed, which can lead to pain and stiffness.
“All feet are not created equal,” says Maude Bertovich, one of Arthritis & Sports physical therapists. Biomechanically, people have different mobility of the ankle joint and arches. “People with high arches tend to have rigid foot and ankle joint mobility, which can lead to increased stress/ground reaction forces on the plantar fascia with each step. On the other hand, people with flat feet who overpronate (arches collapse) tend to have increased joint mobility and can overstretch the plantar fascia with each step, leading to plantar fasciitis.”
Why does your risk increase in the summer?
When the sun is shining and the weather is hot, no one wants to wear bulky shoes. Instead, most of us reach for a cheap pair of flip flops or sandals, or just go completely barefoot. Unfortunately, it’s this choice of footwear (or lack thereof) that can cause or exacerbate a range of foot problems, including plantar fasciitis. The lack of heel and arch support that this provides makes our plantar fascia take more of a beating, causing it to stretch and tear more than other types of footwear.
But what if you don’t wear sandals? Well, you’re not quite out of the woods yet. Most people are more active in the summer, with the nice weather beckoning us outside to walk, run, and exercise more. However, many of us choose to jump back into these activities too fast, leaving our bodies little time to adjust. This places added stress on our ligaments and tendons – and when these become weak and stressed, inflammation can cause plantar fasciitis symptoms to appear.
Even if you’re smart about your footwear and gradually work your way into your new routines, you still may face the pain of plantar fasciitis this summer. Simply being outside places extra demand on your feet. From playing on rocks and shifting sand at the beach, to walking and hiking on uneven ground, variations in surface make the ligaments, muscles, and tendons in and around the foot work harder – and if you already have foot problems, each of these can create stride problems that worsen your symptoms.
What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?
While symptoms of plantar fasciitis vary from one person to another, the most common symptom of plantar fasciitis is pain and sensitivity in the bottom of your foot. However, this pain (which ranges from sharp to dull) may also be felt near your heel or in the arch of your foot.
For most individuals, the pain is generally worst when standing up after resting for a long period of time, such as when you first get out of bed, and goes away shortly after walking around. However, the pain may also worsen right after, but not during, long periods of exercise.
What can you do to avoid this?
Fortunately for many of us, following a few simple rules can help reduce your risk of plantar fasciitis this summer:
Buy proper footwear: “The wrong type of shoe can lead to or exacerbate inflammation of the plantar fascia,” warns Maude. “If you have high arches, wear shoes with good shock absorption – and if you overpronate, more rigid shoes that provide stability and support are helpful.”
Stretch before playing: If you’re going to be running around, make sure to adequately stretch your feet, ankles, and calves. This will make sure that your tendons, muscles, and ligaments are ready to support your every move with ease.
Wear custom orthotics: Custom orthotics help distribute pressure, lessening the tension on your plantar fascia and helping to prevent further damage. Specially formed to match your feet’s unique needs, these will allow you to wear other culprits of plantar fasciitis without pain as well (we’re looking at you, ballet flats and high heels).
Pay attention to what your body is telling you: In most patients with plantar fasciitis, the summertime spike in plantar fasciitis is due to over-activity. If you feel yourself starting to limp or changing the way you walk because of pain, that’s your body telling you to take a break!
Help me – I already have pain!
If you’re starting to feel pain from plantar fasciitis, its important to reduce the inflammation in the ligament. This can be achieved by following the RICE method (rest, ice, compression, elevation) as well as using anti-inflammatory medication.
While reducing inflammation in the plantar fascia ligament is an important part of treatment, this doesn’t address the underlying damage to the ligament. If home treatment doesn’t ease the pain, it’s important to have your feet looked at by a foot and ankle specialist. They will be able to assess your feet and create a personalized course of treatment.
An important part of treatment for plantar fasciitis is physical therapy, which will help you stretch your foot and ankle, while also helping you to stabilize and strengthen your foot and ankle to lessen the workload on your plantar fascia. “By manually mobilizing rigid arches or strengthening collapsing arches, we can help treat the root cause of your plantar fasciitis,” advises Maude.
Ignoring plantar fasciitis may result in chronic heel pain that hinders your regular activities. Over time, this pain can also cause you to change the way you walk to minimize the pain, which can lead to other problems, from your feet and knees to your hip and back. To learn more about plantar fasciitis and the available treatment options, request an appointment online or call us at 703.444.5000 to schedule a consultation with one of Arthritis & Sports’ specialty-trained foot doctors.
Maude Bertovich, DPT, is one of Arthritis & Sports’ highly-trained physical therapists. Our team of therapists specialize in an extensive range of conditions including post-surgical rehabilitation, arthritis and tendinitis. Patients can book an appointment with her in our Sterling office by calling 703.433.2500.