Picture this: As you roll out of bed and take your first tentative steps, a sharp surge of pain radiates from your heel and arch. If you weren’t awake, you certainly are now. Fortunately, the discomfort subsides after moving around, but the respite is short-lived. After spending a few hours working at your desk, you stand up, only to be greeted again by that familiar, throbbing pain.
Sound familiar? It’s an all-too-common scenario for people with plantar fasciitis—a physical condition that causes foot discomfort and impairs mobility.
But what is plantar fasciitis? More importantly, what are the causes of plantar fasciitis, and how can you treat it?
Here’s what you need to know.
What Is Plantar Fasciitis in the Foot?
Did you know that one of the most common reasons for chronic heel problems is plantar fasciitis? Approximately 1 in 10 people will develop it in some form throughout their lifetime. As Dr. Benjamin K. Buchanan notes:1
“Plantar fasciitis is very common in the US with millions experiencing heel pain every year. The cause of plantar fasciitis is multifactorial but most cases result from overuse stress. The classic presentation is of sharp localized pain at the heel… Plantar fasciitis is not easy to treat and patient dissatisfaction is common with most treatments.”
This common foot ailment develops when the plantar fascia—a band of connective tissue running along the bottom of your foot, stretching from your heel bone to your toes—becomes inflamed due to excessive strain.2
That said, not all cases of plantar fasciitis are similar. For some patients, the pain can be mild and intermittent. For others, the presence of pain may be more frequent and severe. Even after treatment, plantar fasciitis can potentially reappear.
What Causes Plantar Fasciitis
The plantar fascia effectively functions as your foot’s shock absorber, supporting your weight and providing stability as you engage in dynamic movements like walking, standing, running, or jumping. Day in and day out, the plantar fascia plays an essential role in two key things:
- Maintaining the structural integrity of the foot
- Supporting the body weight exerted on the foot
When your foot is at rest, the plantar fascia remains in a relaxed state. However, when you engage in dynamic movements, the tension increases to maintain the foot’s arch, and thus provide the necessary support and balance. While some wear-and-tear—referred to medically as “minor degradation”—is to be expected, this weight-bearing ligament can only handle so much stress. In other words, eventually, the dam gives way.
So, when excessive strain is placed on this band–due to factors like overuse, improper footwear, or carrying excess body weight—the tissue experiences small tears. These micro-tears, in turn, cause inflammation and swelling, which results in cases of plantar fasciitis.
What Are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?
The severity and frequency of symptoms, as well as the specific types of symptoms can vary greatly from one patient to another. However, common symptoms include:
- Pain and tenderness – The most common presentation of this chronic condition is sharp localized pain in the heel of the foot; although, this physical discomfort and tightness can radiate across the entire sole of the affected foot. Depending on the severity of the condition, pain levels can range from mild to stabbing.
- Presence of heel spur – A heel spur forms from small calcium deposits that result in a bony growth on the side or underneath the heel. Although plantar fasciitis doesn’t directly cause heel spurs, the same excessive stress can also contribute to the formation of heel spurs, which only adds to feelings of discomfort. Therefore, if you spot a heel spur, you may face a greater risk of having or developing plantar fasciitis.
- Morning stiffness – One of the most commonly reported symptoms among plantar fasciitis patients is extra stiffness and sensitivity upon waking, often referred to as “first-step pain.”
- Tightness in the Achilles tendon – The Achilles tendon—which connects the heel to the calf muscle—works in tandem with the plantar fascia in foot movement and stability. If one is damaged, the other must overcompensate, which can cause further injury or strain.
- Discomfort after prolonged sitting – Any time the affected foot experiences prolonged periods of rest, as might occur when working at a desk for a 9-5 job, the plantar fascia will tighten up, causing a “sitting ache.” Some individuals erroneously assume they are not, in fact, suffering from plantar fasciitis because they can engage in intense physical activities without experiencing foot pain. However, it’s far more common to feel plantar fasciitis pain after physical activities, not during them.
- Unusual sensations in the foot – In the early stages of plantar fasciitis, the degradation may not be severe enough to result in micro-tears. At this point, instead of sharp pain, your foot might provide warning signs like feeling warm, appearing swollen, or tingling.
- Issues with knees, hips, and back – While plantar fasciitis primarily affects the foot, it can indirectly cause pain or even injuries in other parts of the body by altering your walking pattern. A natural gait and upright posture are essential for providing proper support to your knees, hips, and back. If you have plantar fasciitis, you might unconsciously modify your gait or posture to alleviate pain, which can eventually lead to other issues.
Risk Factors for Developing Plantar Fasciitis
Several factors may either predispose you or increase your risk of developing plantar fasciitis, including:3
- Age – Cumulative stress combined with the body’s natural aging process can cause the connective tissue to degrade and fat pads to thin over time.
- Certain types of exercise – Certain physical activities can place undue stress on the heel and the plantar fascia. For instance, ballet and aerobic dancers, long-distance runners, and basketball players all engage in activities that put significant strain on the feet and ankles.
- Foot mechanics – Some people naturally have flat feet, high arches, poor ankle dorsiflexion, or abnormal gaits—all of which can impact weight distribution when standing, placing additional stress on the plantar fascia.
- Obesity – Weight is one of the chief plantar fasciitis causes. A person with a BMI of 30 or higher is significantly more likely to develop plantar fasciitis compared to a person at a healthy weight. And, according to studies, the more overweight a person was, the higher their level of disability due to heel pain will likely be.4
- Ambulatory occupations – Occupations that keep workers on their feet throughout the day, especially on hard surfaces, are at greater risk of developing plantar fasciitis. Common industries with higher than average reports of plantar fasciitis include:
- Food and beverage
- Grocery stores
- Freight and parcel delivery
- Some medical conditions – Health conditions, such as diabetes and certain types of arthritis can exacerbate the risk of developing or severity of plantar fasciitis.
What Is a Plantar Fascia Rupture?
While plantar fasciitis may often be associated with discomfort and pain, it’s crucial not to mistake it for a plantar fascia rupture. These two conditions, although loosely related, have distinct differences in their development and severity.
As mentioned, plantar fasciitis is generally a chronic condition characterized by minor tears in the plantar fascia that accumulate over time—typically due to overuse or strain—leading to inflammation and pain that gradually intensifies.
A plantar fascia rupture, on the other hand, is a much more traumatic and acute injury, often resulting from a sudden, intense action such as a fall or jump. The rupture is characterized by a sudden, sharp pain, and many individuals report hearing or feeling a distinct “pop” in the arch of their foot when the rupture occurs.
If this happens to you, your doctor will need to perform an X-ray or MRI to confirm that the plantar fascia tore.
How Is Plantar Fasciitis Treated?
Fortunately, living with plantar fasciitis doesn’t have to be a life sentence. In all but the most extreme cases, there should be no need for invasive procedures like surgery or steroid injection; instead, there are proactive ways to manage and mitigate its impact. When it comes to plantar fasciitis self-care rituals, be sure to incorporate the following:
- Wearing proper footwear – The type of shoes you wear can have a major impact on your foot health. The right shoes can provide additional support, helping to absorb shocks and distribute your weight evenly. High-quality shoes for plantar fasciitis will have supportive arch design, ample cushioning, and fit properly.
- Switching to lower-impact exercises – Performing low-impact activities like swimming or cycling can reduce the strain on your plantar fascia without forcing you to give up an active lifestyle.
- Stretching daily – After you wake up and before and after an exercise, you should engage in routine stretching exercises designed to improve the elasticity and strength of the plantar fascia.
Support Your Plantar Fasciitis with Vionic
Plantar fasciitis is one of the more common types of foot pain an adult will experience as they reach the mid- to late-stages of their life. Fortunately, positive lifestyle habits and proper footwear can mitigate or outright prevent the microtears associated with this foot condition.
At Vionic, we can help you address the improper footwear issue. Our insoles and walking shoes are purposefully designed to offer both top-tier foot support without sacrificing style. Our shoes provide the stability, arch support, and cushioning your feet need.
Shop our collection today to start addressing plantar fasciitis at the source.
- Buchanan, Benjamin et al. “Plantar Fasciitis.” NCBI. Updated 30 May, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK431073/
- “Plantar fasciitis.” Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/plantar-fasciitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354846
- Friedland, Jerome. “Plantar Fasciitis.” Orthomedctr. https://www.orthomedctr.com/plantar-fasciitis_1.php
- Riddle, Daniel L et al. “Impact of demographic and impairment-related variables on disability associated with plantar fasciitis.” Foot & ankle international vol. 25,5 (2004): 311-7. doi:10.1177/107110070402500506