You may have recently developed plantar fasciitis, or perhaps you've had it for a long time. This is the first in a series of three videos about this condition. In today's video, we'll cover plantar fasciitis symptoms, its causes and how it's diagnosed.

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis, also commonly called heel pain, occurs when the ligament that starts at bottom of your heel and goes to the ball of the foot becomes inflamed. That ligament is called the plantar fascia. It provides support to your foot and shock absorption for the entire body. When the fascia becomes overstretched through walking or running, the area where it attaches to the bottom of the heel becomes injured, inflamed, and it causes pain.

What Are the Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis?

  • The bottom of your heel is the most commonplace you feel pain. You can also feel it in the arch of your foot or anywhere along the fascia.
  • The pain will often start out mild and become worse over time.
  • However, you may experience intense pain right away after a run, for example. When that happens, the problem has been building up for some time, but one intense activity may put that inflammation over the edge of your pain tolerance.
  • A hallmark of the condition is pain with your first steps out of bed first thing in the morning. That usually subsides as the day progresses, but then can worsen if you prolong your activities.
  • You can also experience more pain after sitting for prolonged periods of time and then resuming weight bearing. That's because your calf muscles tighten up during activity causing the plantar fascia to overstretch when you start moving, adding insult to injury. when you do so.
  • You may also feel stiffness and swelling around your heel, and you can have a tight Achilles tendon, but that is more common in another condition called Achilles tendonitis. It has a lot of similar causes and treatments as plantar fasciitis. If you have this condition, you feel the pain on the back of your heel and up the calf.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

Many factors can increase your risk of developing plantar fasciitis.

  • Age - if you're older, you're more likely to develop it.
  • Runners - if you're a runner or an athlete and you undergo high levels of impact to your feet during your sport, you may also be at greater risk.
  • Poor Foot Mechanics - another common risk factor is poor foot mechanics. People with flat feet or excessively high arches are more likely to develop this condition. That's because every time they walk a run, this motion overpulls on their plantar fascia.
  • Tight calf muscles can also be a huge factor in developing plantar fasciitis. Tight calves limit the forward motion of the foot ankle, forcing the feet to overpronate with each step, which causes overpulling on the plantar fascia. So even if you have a normal arch, if you have a tight calf, you still can overpronate.
  • Putting on Weight - if you put on weight during pregnancy or for other reasons this will add pressure to the bottom of the plantar fascia causing the bottom of the foot to flatten out.
  • Poor Shoes - wearing shoes that don't provide adequate support can also be a factor in developing this condition, particularly if you have poor foot mechanics.

Diagnosing Plantar Fasciitis

So how do podiatrists determine you have plantar fasciitis or another heel pain condition?

  • Foot Exam and Observe You Walk - first, I'll examine your feet, watch you walk, and find out more about when and where you feel the most pain.
  • How Long You've Had the Pain - I'll also want to know how long you've been suffering from your condition. Some people come in right away when they feel their first twinge of discomfort. Others take months to come in after first trying over-the-counter foot supports or anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Gait Analysis - I'll also perform a computerized gait analysis to identify pressure points on your feet when you're standing and moving
  • Your Level of Activity
  • The Shoes You Wear
  • Foot Biomechanics - I'll be looking more deeply at the biomechanics of your foot.
  • X-ray - I'll take an X-ray to determine if you have another condition that often accompanies plantar fasciitis called a bone spur. An X-ray can also help me determine if there's another cause for a heel pain like a fracture or arthritis.
  • Diagnostic Ultrasound or MRI - an ultrasound can determine the exact extent of the inflammation in the bottom of your heel. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine the cause without a closer look as the soft tissue. When this happens, I'll send you for an M R I. Based on this wealth of information, I'll be able to determine the most likely cause of your condition and create a treatment plan.

Most plantar fasciitis is treated using conservative methods. It's very rare to resort to surgery to end this condition, and in most instances, we can solve this problem in just a few weeks. In the next video, you'll learn about the five essential areas that may be addressed successfully to treat plantar fasciitis. I'll be discussing these areas in depth so you have a good understanding of what you can do to treat your condition at home and what podiatrists offer to patients at our office.

Dr. Rion Berg
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A podiatrist in North Seattle treating families for over 40 years.