What is plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis, also known as Policeman’s Heel, is the irritation of the plantar fascia of the foot.
The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs from the underside of the heel, along the sole of the foot to the tendons of the toes. It maintains and supports the arches of the foot and absorbs shock when walking or running.
Exercises that pull on the plantar fascia in an abnormal way can cause small tears in the fascia and lead to inflammation and pain.
What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?
Common symptoms of plantar fasciitis include:
Gradual, sharp pain on the heel or underside of the foot
Pain that gets worse when starting to walk after rest or after standing up
Pain that is relieved by exercise but worsens after
Pain when sleeping or after waking up
Tenderness when the area is touched
Stiff toes that are difficult to raise
Pain in knees, hips or lower back, as foot discomfort can make you walk differently to compensate and strain yourself
How common is plantar fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain. Doctors estimate that around 1 in 10 people have this condition and most of these patients tend to spend a lot of their working time on their feet. Plantar fasciitis also makes up about 10% of running-related injuries.
What causes plantar fasciitis?
Although doctors are not sure about how plantar fasciitis happens, there are a group of people that are more susceptible. You may be at a higher risk if you:
Are between 40 to 60 years old
Recently started exercising on hard surfaces
Recently started doing more walking, running or standing
Wear shoes with bad cushioning or support
Have high arches or a tight achilles tendon
How is plantar fasciitis diagnosed?
The pain associated with plantar fasciitis is very specific, so a doctor can usually diagnose plantar fasciitis by asking a few questions about the pain and feeling your foot.
Although no other tests are initially necessary, if the pain doesn’t improve for some time or the doctor suspects another cause of your pain, they may want to take some scans. An X-ray, ultrasound or MRI of your foot can help confirm the diagnosis and rule out any other causes.
How is plantar fasciitis treated?
With proper care, plantar fasciitis will usually resolve by itself and it does not need special treatment. It may take up to 6 to 12 months for full recovery, which is very uncomfortable for some people.
At home, you can help relieve the pain by:
Resting and raising your foot
Using regular ice packs
Taking pain medicine like paracetamol or ibuprofen
Wearing insoles and comfy shoes
Holding a cloth-covered ice pack over the area of pain for 15 minutes, three or four times a day
Wearing night splints or compression socks at night
Taping your arches to support your foot
There are also some simple exercises you can try, like:
Lifting your toes when sitting
Stretching your calf muscles on a step
Pulling your foot with a towel
Rolling a tennis ball or frozen bottle under your foot
We know that being consistent with these methods can completely heal plantar fasciitis in most cases.
If these remedies fail to make it better, a GP may refer you to a physiotherapist or podiatrist or recommend a treatment. Steroid injections can help provide temporary relief. Extracorporeal shockwave therapy, where shock waves are focussed on the plantar fascia to help encourage healing, can also be used. Rarely, surgery is an option if all other treatments have failed to help.
When should I talk to a doctor?
You should seek help from a GP if:
The pain on the bottom of your foot is stopping you from doing normal activities
The pain is getting worse or keeps coming back
The pain has not improved after treating it yourself for 2 weeks
You have tingling or loss of feeling in your foot
You have diabetes and foot pain
What can Livi do to help?
A Livi healthcare professional can check your symptoms and provide advice on the next best step. They can also direct you to resources on the internet that can help with exercises.
Frequently asked questions
- Reviewed by:
- Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi