How to Help Plantar Fasciitis

Have you ever tried to take that first step in the morning after waking up and feel a sharp pain in your heel? That feeling could be your first warning sign of plantar fasciitis.

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common foot problems. Physical therapists treat it in both athletes and non-athletes. It is especially common in recreational or competitive long-distance runners.

Common Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms:

  • Heel pain that starts right after waking up in the morning or periods of inactivity 
  • Heel pain that worsened recently after increasing weight-bearing activity level
  • Limitations in ankle motion
  • Pain with touching the inner aspect of your foot's arch

Several risk factors have been identified that can lead to plantar fasciitis, including:

  • Loss of ankle motion
  • Non-athletic individuals with a high body mass index (BMI)
  • People who are required to stand or walk on hard surfaces for work
  • A high-arch foot type or a low-arch foot type (especially in female runners)
  • Long-distance runners (male and female) are at a greater risk if totaling more than 40 miles a week

There is strong evidence to support that using a night splint helps alleviate plantar fasciitis pain. A night splint is designed to hold the foot and ankle in a supported position while you sleep.

Additional treatments that can help alleviate plantar fasciitis pain include stretching exercises, taping techniques, wearing orthotics to support foot/ankle and manual therapy by a physical therapist.

Patients need education on how to use a night splint properly. In addition to a night splint, patients need exercises targeting flexibility, ankle range of motion and lower-extremity strengthening are crucial components to successfully rehabilitate plantar fasciitis.

Since this condition is so common in the running population, a physical therapy exam may consist of a walking and/or running gait analysis. A physical therapist can determine if anything needs to be addressed from that analysis, as well as offer suggestions for managing running mileage each week.

In the end, a physical therapist can get help figure out why your pain started in the first place or help you prevent it from returning in the future.

About the Therapist:
Sarah Mellman, PT, DPT, is a physical therapist at Penn Therapy & Fitness Weightman Hall.