Runners: do you have plantar fasciitis and should you see a doctor?

Posted on 30 August 2017

Plantar fasciitis is caused by straining the ligament that supports the foot arch. Repeated strain can cause tiny tears in the ligament. We look at which types of athletes are at risk and when you need to see a doctor.

Plantar fasciitis, the most common cause of heel pain, occurs when you strain your plantar fascia, the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes and supports the arch of your foot. It can happen in one or both feet.

‘This over-use or over-stretch injury is common in athletes who compete in impact, running or jumping sports,’ says Ansoné Hugo, a biokineticist working at Mediclinic Kimberley.

What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?

The condition causes stabbing pain in the heel or the bottom of the foot when standing or walking, says Hugo. ‘Swelling and tenderness are also signs,’ she notes.

‘The pain will be worse in the morning when you get up for the few first steps. It will bother you after exercise and not necessarily during it,’ she adds.

If you have foot pain at night, you may have a different problem such as arthritis or a nerve condition.

Who is prone to plantar fasciitis?

‘We see it in long-distance runners, high-jumpers, long-jumpers and ballet dancers. We also see it in cricketers, who stand for long periods of time. But any athlete with poor foot biomechanics, such as high or low arches, or with tight Achilles tendons or calf muscles, is prone to this condition,’ says Hugo.

The arch, or instep, runs from your toes to the heel on the bottom of your foot. High arches mean that less of the plantar surface of your foot is weight-bearing, resulting in increased stress on the heel and ball of your foot. Low arches, or ‘flat feet’, is when the entire sole of your foot is in contact or near-contact with the ground while standing. This results in ‘over-pronation’ when walking, which stretches the plantar fascia away from the heel bone.

‘Working out using faulty techniques, wearing the wrong shoes for your foot, or running on uneven roads are also contributing factors,’ Hugo adds.

If you suspect plantar fasciitis, what should you do?

See your doctor. ‘The earlier the diagnosis, the quicker you can get treatment to relieve the pain,’ Hugo says.

What is the treatment?

No single treatment works best for everyone, and almost all take time to work, so be patient and persistent. Treatments include rest, pain-relief medication, toe and calf stretches, wearing the correct footwear with good arch support and a cushioned sole, or wearing shoe inserts (orthotics).

For persistent cases, your doctor may recommend steroid injections or splints to wear at night to stretch your calf and the arch of your foot while you sleep.

Published in Exercise

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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