Heel pain caused by an injury to the plantar fascia, the stretchy tendon running along the length of the bottom of the foot, can stubbornly persist and become chronic. This condition, called plantar fasciitis, occurs commonly in runners, other athletes and older adults in the presence of tight calves, a shortened Achilles tendon, weight gain, or other movement or musculoskeletal-related causes. Note that the recommendations below do not constitute medical advice: Before trying these home plantar fasciitis treatment strategies, patients should be evaluated by a doctor, ideally a podiatrist.
Basic Plantar Fasciitis Treatment: Stop the Cause
Injured men and women with plantar fasciitis should temporarily stop doing the activity that the doctor or podiatrist has determined is the cause, such as running, racquetball, tennis, or walking with inadequate shoes or, in the case of flat feet, on bare feet. This doesn’t mean bed rest; mild exercise can actually help treat plantar fasciitis by strengthening and stretching the muscles of the foot. Choose an athletic activity that doesn’t make the heel pain worse.
Standard Plantar Fasciitis Treatment: Arch Support
Standing or walking barefoot or in flat shoes without arch support is usually not advised by doctors in patients with plantar fasciitis, many of whom already have flat feet. Every time a woman or man with plantar fasciitis bears weight, the proper arch support for the patient’s stride should be used. Arch support can come from one or more of the following:
- taping the arch of the foot with athletic tape – also known as “heel taping”
- custom orthotic insoles prescribed by a podiatrist
- over-the-counter therapeutic arch support inserts
- “diabetic” style shoes with removable insoles into which orthotics can be placed
- shoes designed to correct stride problems of overpronation or underpronation, as applicable
- shoes or sandals featuring anatomical footbeds
Often-Neglected Plantar Fasciitis Treatment: Massage Before Standing
Plantar fasciitis sometimes persists despite all home treatment. This can occur because of the problem of reinjury. By the end of the day, plantar fasciitis may seem to be cured, but in the morning, it comes back. Every time a patient puts weight on the injured foot after resting – in the morning, after sitting, or after napping – the stiffened muscles in the feet aren’t able to stretch, leaving the torn or strained tissue to take the stress.
Acute heel pain results. As the muscles warm up, the pain lessens. With this recurrent pattern, the disease flare-up can last for months or longer. The quick “cure” is to rub the bottom of the foot with the fingers or with a foot massager right before standing. Doing this consistently can not only provide pain relief, but also reduce the problem of reinjuring the plantar fascia.
Plantar Fasciitis Calf Stretches
A tight calf can worsen or even cause plantar fasciitis. Standard treatment is to do regular calf stretches. Talk to a physical therapist or podiatrist about the different calf stretches that target different parts of the gastrocnemius, the large, bunchy muscle of the calf.
A basic calf stretch is to face a wall, brace the hands against the wall at shoulder level, plant the uninjured foot forward, bending the knee of that leg, and letting the rear leg gently straighten. The patient then leans forward on the front leg slightly, thus gently stretching the calf of the rear leg.
Treating Plantar Fasciitis With Ice and Heat
Heat allows muscles to stretch; cold causes muscles to contract. Therefore, doctors may advise patients to apply mild wet heat to the heel of the foot before exercise to relax the muscles, and to apply mild cold to the bottom of the injured foot after bearing weight to reduce inflammation and provide pain relief.
A warm, wet cotton rag can be used for heat before bearing weight, while a cold soda can kept in the refrigerator can be rolled on the floor along the bottom of the foot after weight bearing.
Plantar Fasciitis Night Splint or Brace
A soft or semi-rigid night splint, also called a brace, worn on the affected foot while sleeping works along with calf stretches, heat and massage to keep the leg and foot muscles limber. A night splint braces the Achilles tendon in a slightly stretched position, which prevents the muscles of the foot and calf from tightening up when they’re not being used.
Before using a night splint, consult a physician for an assessment about what type is appropriate. There are soft, rigid, and semi-rigid night splints. Some patients never need night splints to treat their heel pain, while for others, night splints make all the difference in treating their plantar fasciitis effectively.
Effective Plantar Fasciitis Treatment Takes Time… and Patience
Using several home therapies at once, rather than just one at a time, may help a man or woman with heel pain caused by plantar fasciitis heal more quickly. Being diligent about massage, icing, heat, and arch support may make for a quicker recovery than casual and irregular treatments. Although there is no real “cure” for plantar fasciitis, as the injury is associated with collagen degeneration, the pain can usually be treated at home in most patients without surgery or other invasive therapy.