Plantar Fasciitis: Burning heel and arch pain

When the temperature rises, the toes are freed – into those cute sandals they go.  Nicer weather signifies gardening, hiking, walking, sports, and vacations which may involve standing in line for sights and lots of walking.  Achy burning heels and feet can really take the fun out of all that. The two most common causes of foot pain are bone spurs and plantar fasciatis.

A bone spur forms as the body tries to repair itself by building extra bone. It generally forms in response to pressure, rubbing, or stress that continues over a long period of time.  Some bone spurs form as part of the aging process. As we age, the slippery tissue called cartilage that covers the ends of the bones within joints breaks down and eventually wears away (osteoarthritis). Bone spurs also form in the feet in response to tight ligaments, to activities such as dancing and running that put stress on the feet, and to pressure from being overweight or from poorly fitting shoes. For example, the long ligament on the bottom of the foot (plantar fascia) can become stressed or tight and pull on the heel, causing the ligament to become inflamed (plantar fasciitis). As the bone tries to mend itself, a bone spur can form on the bottom of the heel (known as a “heel spur”). Pressure at the back of the heel from frequently wearing shoes that are too tight can cause a bone spur on the back of the heel. This is sometimes called a “pump bump,” because it is often seen in women who wear high heels.

You can see that these two conditions are often linked. And we want to do everything possible to prevent pain and bone spurs.  The first step is avoiding and treating plantar fasciitis if it crops up. 

What causes plantar fasciitis?

  • Biomechanical abnormalities of the feet and legs (flat or rigid feet with a high arch, tight calf muscles, overpronation*)
  • Ill-fitting shoes that offer poor support or are worn out
  • A big increase in weight
  • An increase in daily activity on your feet or change in walking surface
  • Decreased flexibility with age

*The foot rolls inward and your arch flattens.  You can get an idea of whether you over pronate by looking at your footwear. If you tend to wear out the inside front of your sole then this is a strong indication that something is not quite right.

The clients I have treated with plantar fasciitis have developed it from walking barefoot on new ceramic tile or concrete floors, wearing flip flops, wearing worn out athletic shoes, wearing high heels very often, or an increase in the amount of time on their feet (ie. running).

How can you treat plantar fasciitis?

Stretching – tight calves can contribute to this condition.  Daily stretches for calves and feet can really help.  Here’s a video with some simple calf stretches done in a chair. To stretch the arches of the feet, watch this video.  For self massage of your arches using a tennis ball, click here. These stretches can help keep your lower leg and feet flexible, thereby preventing plantar fasciitis in the first place.

Ice – icing the arches of your feet can help relieve inflammation and pain.  You can roll out your arches on a frozen plastic bottle of water for 15 minutes at a time.  If the ice is too cold, place a kitchen towel between your skin and the ice.

Improved footwear and/or orthotics – buy some good supportive shoes if you’ll be on your feet a lot or walking.  Orthoheel has a line of footwear backed by technology and Dr. Andrew Weil.  You don’t have to sacrifice fashion these days…see their cute sandals here.  I am also a fan of Birkenstock, Dansko and Born shoes – all with good arch support and styles with flair. Many of my clients find that orthotics, fitted by a podiatrist, or even off-the-shelf models fitted by the local Happy Feet store really make a difference in pain free standing/walking. If you are looking for athletic shoes, I highly recommend Heart & Sole right here in Albuquerque.  Heart & Sole has expert fitters that will video your gait while walking on a treadmill to see what type of shoe is best for your feet.

Massage – regular massage for the legs can help increase blood flow, and address hip alignment issues that may be contributing.  Massage for plantar fasciitis will focus on deep stripping and stretching of the fascia, multi-directional friction on the insertion point at the heel, deep kneading motions on all the muscles of the feet, and stretches for the ankles and calves.

Wearing Shoes Consistently – Some of my clients report that putting their shoes on as soon as they get out of bed in the morning can help.  It is recommended that you do not go barefoot during the healing process.  Ceramic tile, concrete, and even wood floors can be tough on your feet. Giving your foot ample support can really help.

I hope that you never have to experience this painful condition.  Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns about massage therapy for plantar fasciitis.