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The plantar fascia is a tough and fibrous bundle of tissue stretching from the heel of the foot to the toes. It is the principal support for the arch of the foot and is stretched every time we take a step, acting as a type of shock absorber for the sole of the foot. When the tissue of the plantar fascia becomes inflamed it is known as plantar fasciitis.
One of the first symptoms of plantar fasciitis is foot pain, usually experienced towards the heel at the base of the foot, although it can make itself apparent throughout the length of the tissue bundle. The use of appropriate foot support is recommended as soon as possible in order to stretch and realign the plantar fascia. Wearing a good quality support for the arch of the foot is important as it keeps the foot correctly aligned and can prevent further damage to the structures of the sole of the foot.
There is not always an obvious reason for the pain, but it is usually due to overstretching of the plantar fascia or other damage causing minute tears to the ligament-like structure. These tears cause the plantar fascia to become inflamed and thickened, which causes pain and difficulty in walking. People who spend a lot of time on their feet are more at risk, as are those carrying excess weight, which can cause additional strain on the structures of the foot.
A doctor or podiatrist will usually confirm the diagnosis after examination of the foot, but in some cases an x-ray or scan may be required to pinpoint the inflammation with great accuracy. Although the condition tends to clear up on its own after a period of rest and appropriate support, there are ways of relieving the foot pain and speeding up recovery.
Acute cases of foot pain can be relieved through paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs). An adequate period of rest is usually recommended along with an appropriate foot support, which provides cushioning for the inflamed areas and exerts gentle pressure on the foot to stretch the tissue.
Severe pain in the foot can be relieved through the application of ice packs, but make sure to avoid placing ice directly on the skin. Cushioned insoles can help to provide additional shock absorption and minimise pain. Gentle stretches which pull the toes upwards towards the body encourage the plantar fascia to stretch out and can help to speed healing and recovery.
Foot pain associated with plantar fasciitis can last for up to a year, although most people experience relief sooner provided that they abide by the recommendations of their medical practitioner or sports physiotherapist. Wearing a high-quality foot support can speed healing as it encourages the fibrous tissue to align correctly and repair itself, although in extremely severe cases surgical intervention may be required.