Physical Therapist’s Guide to Plantar Fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is a condition causing heel pain. Supporting the arch, the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue connecting the heel to the ball of the foot, can become inflamed or can tear. You experience pain when you put weight on your foot—particularly when taking your first steps in the morning. The pain can be felt at the heel, or along the arch and the ball of the foot.
Plantar fasciitis is a common foot condition. It occurs in as many as 2 million Americans per year and 10% of the population over their lifetimes.
Factors that contribute to the development of plantar fasciitis include:

  • Age (over 40 years)
  • A job, sport, or hobby that involves prolonged standing or other weight-bearing activity
  • Rapid increases in length or levels of activity, such as beginning a new running program or changing to a job that requires a lot more standing or walking than you are accustomed to
  • Decreased calf muscle flexibility
  • Increased body weight (Body Mass Index greater than 30)
  • Tendency to have a flat foot (pronation)

Plantar fasciitis affects people of all ages, both athletes and non-athletes. Men and women have an equal chance of developing the condition.
Treatment generally reduces pain and restores your ability to put weight on your foot again.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?
Physical therapists are trained to evaluate and treat plantar fasciitis.
When you are diagnosed with plantar fasciitis, your physical therapist will work with you to develop a program to decrease your symptoms that may include:

  • Stretching exercises to improve the flexibility of your ankle and the plantar fascia
  • Use of a night splint to maintain correct ankle and toe positions
  • Selection of supportive footwear and/or shoe inserts that minimize foot pronation and reduce stress to the plantar fascia
  • Application of ice to decrease pain and inflammation
  • Iontophoresis (a gentle way to deliver medication through the skin)
  • Taping of the foot to provide short-term relief

Research shows that most cases of plantar fasciitis improve over time with these conservative treatments, and surgery is rarely required.
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