What is plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis – sometimes referred to as Policeman’s Heel – is a condition that causes pain in the very bottom of the heel.
The ligaments that sit between your heel and your toes are designed to act as your body’s natural shock absorbers, cushioning your feet from your body weight and overly strenuous activity. But when these ligaments have undergone severe wear and tear, they become damaged, resulting in discomfort and stiffness along the whole of the bottom of the foot.
Is the condition caused by inflammation?
There’s a common misconception amongst plantar fasciitis sufferers that their pain is caused by inflammation in the ligaments that run between the heel and the toe of each foot.
Search online, and you’ll see thousands of medics claiming that inflamed plantar fascia are at the very heart of the problem. But new evidence is proving that this is not actually the case at all.
What’s really going on?
During a bout of plantar fasciitis, the connecting ligaments that line the bottom of the foot are not, as we once believed, becoming swollen or inflamed in the first instance.
Many experts and industry professionals are now embracing the concept that inflammation is in fact a by-product of the real problem: thick, oversized plantar fascia that are reacting to stress and overuse.
It’s the thickening of these important tissues that’s leading to the irritation and soreness that’s all-too-often associated with the condition.
Plantar fascia ligaments that are healthy will normally measure in at between 2mm and 4mm thick. Studies show that, if the arch of the foot is thicker than 4mm, symptoms of plantar fasciitis are likely to be present. The correlation between the two is now strong enough to suggest that thicker ligaments go hand in hand with reports of the condition.
So why won’t anti-inflammatories cure plantar fasciitis?
As you’ve probably already guessed by now, anti-inflammatory drugs and other similar treatment methods such as cortisone injections can only go some way to combating a thickened plantar fascia. This is because these types of treatments are only ever going to treat the symptoms of plantar fasciitis, not its root cause.
Aspirins and ibuprofens might take the edge off the pain for the time being – but they will do little to tackle the issue in the longer term.
How to deal with thickened plantar fascia
If you’re noticing painful symptoms and are worried that your plantar fascia may be thickening, the best thing to do in the first instance is to quite literally take the pressure off your feet and get some rest.
Long periods of standing, walking or running can exacerbate the problem. if you know you’re going to be active, make sure you schedule in regular breaks.
Wearing supportive shoes is a great way to keep thickened plantar fascia at bay, too. Choose footwear with a solid heel, a supported arch and enough space for your feet to breathe, and you should be able to keep thickening to a minimum. Orthotic insoles can also be used to provide additional metatarsal support if needs be; there are customisable options on the market that not only allow you to adjust the level of cushioning within your shoe, but also ease the impact of your body weight on your heel and stabilise your joints for a better posture.
And, of course, you may not be experiencing plantar fasciitis at all.
Plantar fasciitis is often blamed for most of our foot pain – but there are other conditions that could be contributing to your discomfort.
For example, bone spurs could be the culprit. Flat feet, overpronation, under-pronation and supination could also be risk factors. The only way to know for sure what’s causing the problem is to seek the advice of a qualified medical professional.