See if this scenario sounds familiar.
You wake up in the morning, ready to start your day. But as soon as you take your first step out of bed, you get a stabbing pain in the back of your heel. It’s so excruciating, you sit back down on your bed, wondering how you’ll make it through the day, let alone to the other side of your bedroom.
There’s a name for that: plantar fasciitis.
“When you stand up after sleeping or after sitting for long periods of time and your arch flattens out, the ligament (plantar fascia) that connects the heel to the toes gets stretched out and can lead to small tears,” says Dr. Benjamin Cullen, a podiatrist affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital. “That causes inflammation and can lead to severe pain.”
Plantar fasciitis can happen to anyone, at any age. It is more common in middle-aged people, but can also affect younger people, such as soldiers and athletes, who tend to be on their feet a lot. Oftentimes, it affects people whose foot arches are either too high or too low.
“One of the first steps you can take to minimize the pain is to try taking ibuprofen first thing in the morning, when you first feel the pain,” says Dr. Cullen. “Stretching out is really good and so is rolling your foot on a frozen water bottle for a few minutes. That can help and feel soothing.”
Dr. Cullen explains that when he first sees a patient with heel pain, they go through the patient’s medical history together and talk about symptoms. He then performs a physical exam to determine which area of the foot hurts. Once a diagnosis is made, a treatment plan is developed; this may involve stretching exercises, physical therapy and shoe inserts.
“There are a variety of different treatment options that we have, depending on each patient,” he adds.
People with flat feet tend to be more predisposed to having plantar fasciitis, so those who notice that they are starting to develop heel pain should consider getting (and wearing) shoes that are supportive: ones that don’t easily bend in the middle of the sole (bottom of the shoe).
Dr. Cullen adds that people with a family history of foot problems like plantar fasciitis should be wary of other issues with their own feet, because problems with foot structure can be inherited from parents.
“If you notice that your parents or your grandparents have been complaining about their feet, then that’s even more reason to have your feet checked out by a foot specialist,” adds Dr. Cullen. “Don’t wait. Better to see a podiatrist when you first notice those symptoms to correct small problems before they turn into big ones.”