If you’re one of the over three million Americans diagnosed with plantar fasciitis this year — or if you’re hoping to avoid joining the ranks of heel and foot pain sufferers — you may be wondering what causes this painful condition in the first place.
At South Sound Foot & Ankle in Olympia, Washington, Mark Hopkins, DPM, and our entire care team use an integrative and customized approach to diagnosing and treating plantar fasciitis. We’re also committed to helping patients avoid developing the condition in the first place.
Knowing your risk factors can help you take steps to stop plantar fasciitis before it starts.
What is plantar fasciitis?
There’s a thick band of tissue on the bottom of your feet called the plantar fascia. This ligament reaches your heels to the base of your toes and supports the arches of your feet, helping you walk, run, and jump.
When the plantar fascia is strained, it develops small tears and inflammation that lead to a condition called plantar fasciitis. With plantar fasciitis, the ligament tightens when your feet are at rest. The result? When you take your first steps after being off of your feet for a while, the tissue pulls, and you experience tremendous pain in your foot and heel.
Pain isn’t the only symptom plantar fasciitis brings. This condition can also cause swelling, redness, and burning in your foot and heel. You may notice your symptoms worsen after standing, running, or walking.
What are the causes of plantar fasciitis?
Active adults between the ages of 40 and 70 have the greatest chances of developing plantar fasciitis. Women have a slightly greater risk, especially women who are in the third trimester of pregnancy.
So what causes this painful condition? Here are five common causes of plantar fasciitis:
Tight tendons and certain foot conditions
The plantar fascia takes the brunt of the force of your movements as it supports your arches and acts as a shock absorber with every step. The tissue can tighten as it repairs the micro-tears and inflammation that develop when you spend time on your feet. When you don’t take time to stretch your Achilles tendon, calves, and feet, your risk of plantar fasciitis increases. This is also true for people with naturally tighter tendons, muscles, and ligaments or with certain foot conditions, like flat feet.
For runners, especially long-distance runners, the threat of plantar fasciitis is real. In fact, it’s the third-most-common running-related injury for runners and joggers. Overtraining or increasing your speed, mileage, or incline too quickly can strain the plantar fascia, and the wear and tear running puts this tendon through — even over short distances — increase your risk of getting this painful condition.
Long hours on your feet
People who spend much of their working hours on their feet are at higher risk of developing plantar fasciitis. Teachers, factory workers, construction workers, restaurant personnel…anyone who spends long hours standing strains their plantar fascia. And without a chance for the tissues to rest and repair between shifts, plantar fasciitis develops more readily.
Being overweight or obese
When you’re overweight or obese, your plantar fascia is exposed to an increased amount of stress and strain. Every extra pound you carry increases your chances of developing plantar fasciitis. Researchers have found much evidence that simply being overweight not only increases your risk but also increases the severity of your symptoms.
Unfortunately, the wear-and-tear of aging means that as you get older, the risk of developing plantar fasciitis increases. As we get older, our body takes longer to perform repairs. Since it’s difficult to avoid being on your feet, plantar fasciitis becomes more common with age. Older adults are also more likely to have medical conditions that negatively impact circulation, like diabetes or heart disease, which can also increase your chances of developing plantar fasciitis.
Is there help for plantar fasciitis?
Yes! Dr. Hopkins customizes a treatment plan for your plantar fasciitis based on your symptoms, medical history, and results of imaging studies, like in-office X-rays. Dr. Hopkins may recommend a combination of several of the following treatment therapies:
- Lifestyle changes (e.g., nutrition counseling)
- Weight loss and weight management
- Appropriate stretches and exercise
- Custom orthotics for better support
- Assistive devices (e.g., cane)
- Cold and heat therapies
- Vitamin supplementation
- Medications, such as painkillers, steroids, and anti-inflammatories
Want to learn more about the causes of plantar fasciitis or take steps to end your pain? Dr. Hopkins and the team at South Sound Foot & Ankle can help! Contact our Olympia office to schedule an appointment or book online now!