Emily wasn't sure how she let her friend talk her into signing up for a 10-mile race. The most she'd ever jogged was 3 miles. Now, with just a few days to go before the race, Emily felt woefully unprepared, so she jogged 6 miles one day and then 8 the next to get ready.
The morning of the race, Emily's heel hurt a little bit when she woke up, but she still joined her friend and made it the full 10 miles. The next day her heel was in so much pain that she could barely walk, so Emily went to see a doctor. The doctor asked her some questions about her activities, then told Emily she had a condition called plantar fasciitis.
At the bottom of your foot there's a thick band of connective tissue called the plantar fascia or arch tendon. It connects your heel bone (calcaneus) to the front of your foot.
If the plantar fascia becomes irritated and painful due to overuse, it's known as plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis can sometimes be mistaken for heel spurs, which is a different kind of injury with similar symptoms.
Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain in runners, dancers, and athletes in sports that involve a lot of running or jumping.
You don't have to be active to get it, though. Plantar fasciitis can affect anyone. People who are overweight, pregnant women, people whose jobs involve a lot of standing, and people who wear worn-out shoes are all susceptible to plantar fasciitis.
The most obvious symptom of plantar fasciitis is a sharp pain on the bottom of the foot, near the heel. Here are some signals that this pain may be plantar fasciitis:
If you see a doctor for heel pain, he or she will first ask questions about where you feel the pain. If plantar fasciitis is suspected, the doctor will ask about what activities you've been doing that might be putting you at risk. The doctor will also examine your foot by pressing on it or asking you to flex it to see if that makes the pain worse.
If something else might be causing the pain, like a heel spur or a bone fracture, the doctor may order an X-ray to take a look at the bones of your feet. In rare cases, if heel pain doesn't respond to regular treatments, the doctor also might order an MRI scan of your foot.
The good news about plantar fasciitis is that it usually goes away after a few months with simple treatment at home. Only in the rarest of cases does it require surgery. Surgery is a last resort if nothing else eases the pain.
Because the plantar fascia supports your foot and gets used every time you take a step, it has to absorb a large amount of stress and weight. If too much pressure is put on the plantar fascia, the fibers can become damaged or start to tear. The body responds by causing inflammation in the affected area. This is what causes the pain and stiffness of plantar fasciitis.
Things that can increase the risk of plantar fasciitis include:
More than with most sports injuries, a little bit of prevention can go a long way toward keeping you free from plantar fasciitis. Here are some tips to follow:
Talk to your doctor about getting heel pads, custom shoe inserts, or orthotics to put in your shoes. Foot supports can help cushion your feet and distribute your weight more evenly. This is especially true for people with high arches or flat feet. Your doctor will be able to tell you if shoe inserts and supports might lower your chances of heel injury.
Treatments you can do at home include:
For people who get repeated sports injuries, it can help to see a sports medicine specialist. These experts are trained in evaluating things like an athlete's running style, jumping stance, or other key moves. They can teach you how to make the most of your body's strengths and compensate for any weaknesses.
Once you're healed, look for the silver lining in your bench time. You may find that what you learn from having an injury leads you to play a better game than ever before!
Reviewed by: Kathleen B. O'Brien, MD
Date reviewed: April 2011
|American College of Sports Medicine This site has tips on staying safe while playing sports and exercising.|
|National Youth Sports Safety Foundation This organization offers a newsletter with helpful safety tips and facts about sports injury prevention.|
|National Athletic Trainers' Association This site contains information on certified athletic trainers and tips on preventing and healing sports injuries.|
|Safety Tips: Running Injuries can be common, and runners should always be aware of their surroundings. To keep things safe while running, follow these tips.|
|Runner's Knee Runner's knee is the most common overuse injury among runners, but it can also happen to other athletes who do activities that require a lot of knee bending.|
|Achilles Tendonitis If the tendon just above your heel becomes swollen or irritated due to overuse, it can lead to a painful condition called Achilles tendonitis. Find out how to treat it - and prevent it.|
|Dealing With Sports Injuries You practiced hard and made sure you wore protective gear, but you still got hurt. Read this article to find out how to take care of sports injuries - and how to avoid getting them.|
|Hamstring Strain A hamstring strain happens when one or more of the muscles in the back of the leg gets stretched too far and starts to tear. Find out how to treat hamstring strains in this article for teens.|
|Sports Center Visit our sports center for tips on everything from choosing the best sport for you to dealing with sports pressure and injuries.|
|Bones, Muscles, and Joints Our bones, muscles, and joints form our musculoskeletal system and enable us to do everyday physical activities.|
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