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  • Writer's pictureIan Thornley

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

"Please help - I've got plantar fasciitis." I frequently hear this from my patients and it tends to be used as a catch all term for pain in the bottom of the foot. In reality there are a number of causes of foot pain but plantar fasciitis is certainly a common one.

It is inflammation of the plantar fascia, which runs from the heel to the toes, along the length of the foot, but is also linked to the calf musculature and the achilles tendon. It can be an extremely painful condition, sometimes likened to walking on broken glass and is often worse in the morning or following periods of rest.

It is likely to be caused due to a change or increase in activity - such as walking or running but a change in job activity can also be the culprit as can being pregnant. Changes to elasticity of the ligaments in pregnancy is likely to be the reason for this.

If you are experiencing plantar fasciitis there are a number of things you can do to help yourself with the pain and discomfort. These are likely to be more effective if you have only just started to get symptoms and I would suggest seeking the professional advise of an osteopath should you have a long term issue or the following tips do not have the desired effect, as the way the body functions means the true cause can be far away from the feet - a back or pelvic problem can lead to the feet paying the price.

However there are some things you can try at home to give some relief

1. Use Ice

While application of ice is unlikely to affect the inflammation of the fascia it can have a brilliant effect on the pain sensation felt. Similar nerve pathways are used to transmit pain and temperature information to the brain and ice can therefore interrupt the transmission of pain signals.

A great way to do this is an ice bottle. Fill a small plastic water bottle to 3/4 full and place in the freezer overnight. Once fully frozen the bottle can be placed on it's side on a towel on the floor and the affected foot can be rolled slowly over the bottle, from the heel to toes and back again. Try wearing a damp sock to prevent ice burns and maximise the cold effect.

You can do this for 10 to 15 minutes, three times a day. Don't forget to put the bottle back in the freezer when you have finished so it is ready for the next time.

2. Drink plenty of water

Water is so under-rated. Approximately 60% of our bodies are water and it is essential to how we function as a whole, but also for how individual tissues function. When dehydrated fascia is thought to get stickier, reducing its ability to move over adjacent tissue. It is thought that this could be a factor in some cases of plantar fasciitis.

Try to get the recommended 1.5 to 2 L of water intake daily. One top tip for this is to fill a bottle, or several smaller bottles, to a total of 1.5L at the start of the day. You can then easily see what you have left. Obviously these are guideline amounts - the amount you need will be specific to you and will depend on how hot it is where you live and your activity levels for example.

3. Gentle stretches

Gentle stretches to the fascia of the foot, and the muscles of the calf can be very useful to relieve pain and make walking more comfortable.

Sitting on a chair, raise the affected foot onto the opposite knee and using your hand, bring the toes upwards, towards the front of the knee, stretching the bottom to the foot. Hold for 20 seconds or so then relax. This can be repeated 4 or 5 times, on 3 or 4 occasions each day. You will feel a stretch but this should not be intensely painful. If it is then stop the stretch and consider seeking professional advice, for example from an osteopath.

For the calf, place the toes of the affected foot on a rolled up towel, with the other leg behind you. Keeping the knee of the affected leg straight, move the body forwards, over the toes and feel the stretch into the back of the lower leg. Again, if there is pain, stop. You should feel a stretch but no sharp pain. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 4-5 times, on 2 or 3 occasions through the day.

It is often helpful to do these stretches on waking to prepare the foot for weight bearing. The toe stretch in particular can be easily done before getting out of bed.

4 Rolling with a ball

If using ice is impractical using a soft ball, a tennis ball will do, and rolling the foot on it can also be very useful. The advantage of this is that it can be done almost anywhere. Whether at home or at work, slip your shoe off and have a roll for safe gentle relief of your discomfort. Try to roll it from the heel to the toes and side to side, particularly concentrating on the front edge of the heel can be very beneficial. Do this as often as you like - as long as it's not painful and not too much pressure to irritate the foot.

5. Get professional advice

An musculoskeletal professional, such as an osteopath will be able to provide the bespoke intervention that will be most beneficial to you. In long term cases or ones where the above exercises are not providing relief, your osteopath will be able to assess you as a whole, understand and explain likely reasons for your plantar fasciitis and work with you to get you back to your activity. While plantar fasciitis is usually, although painful, a self limiting issue some underlying issues may predispose you to this problem. Hence, as with all types of pain, if it is not resolving, you should seek the appropriate attention and care.

Assessment is normally done in a face to face appointment and online video appointments can also be very beneficial for this type of pain and discomfort for diagnosis, tips and bespoke treatment advice and onward referral if necessary.

I hope these tips work for you. If you do find you need additional help you can book quickly and easily here or you can call 07738017206 to book or with any questions.

Good luck!

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