What Causes Plantar Fasciitis to Flare Up?

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis to Flare Up?

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If you are one of the two million people who deal with this pain every year, you’re probably curious about what causes plantar fasciitis to flare up and how to prevent it. Sure, plantar fasciitis is not all that serious compared to other, more urgent health conditions. But that doesn’t diminish the discomfort someone experiences when the plantar fascia becomes irritated or inflamed.

Plantar fasciitis pain is often described as a sharp, stabbing, non-radiating sensation in the heel of the foot. The pain, swelling, and stiffness can be so intense that even walking a small distance can be difficult. Once you learn why plantar fasciitis flare-ups happen, you can take “steps” to prevent them.

What Is the Plantar Fascia—and Why Does it Hurt?

The plantar fascia is a long, web-like ligament that runs along the bottom of the foot and connects the heel to the toes. This ligament supports the arch of the foot and absorbs the strains and stresses our daily activities place on our feet as we walk, run, turn, and climb. Excess pressure can strain or damage the plantar fascia, causing inflammation and the tell-tale heel pain and stiffness many experience.

Risk Factors for Plantar Fasciitis Flare-Ups

Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common causes of foot pain, affecting one in 10 adults at some point in their lifetime. Often, it is the activities we do every day and the diet and lifestyle habits we have that cause—or prevent—plantar fasciitis flare-ups. In other cases, it is the inherent shape of our feet and legs that cause problems.

Plantar fasciitis risk factors include:

  • Excess weight
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Low or high arches of the feet
  • Age (commonly affects people 40-60)
  • Lengthy periods of inactivity (like sleeping)
  • Standing on hard surfaces for extended periods of time
  • Limited flexibility in the calf muscles and/or Achilles tendon
  • Starting new physical activities or suddenly increasing their intensity
  • Repetitive high impact activities (dancing, running, and various sports)

At first glance, this list of common plantar fasciitis risk factors may seem contradictory. After all, it affects people who don’t exercise enough—and people who exercise too much. Physical activity is essential for everyone’s overall health and wellness.

The key to avoiding plantar fasciitis flare-ups is to warm up the body for activity, change-up the exercises you do, and gradually increase your intensity over time.

If you think of the plantar fascia ligament as a rope, these tips may make more sense. As you sleep through the night or sit at your work desk for hours at a time, that rope is loose and relaxed.

When you stand up to take that first step, the rope is pulled on like in a game of ‘tug of war.’ If the rope isn’t very strong, it can start to fray or get damaged over time. That’s the pain you feel during a plantar fascia flare-up.

The cool part of the body is that with appropriate load management, the ‘rope’ repairs itself, such as when gradually increasing levels of activity, and becomes thicker and stronger.

Tips for Managing Plantar Fasciitis Flare Ups

Now, let’s move on to practical tips to prevent a plantar fascia flare-up in the future. All of these recommendations are safe, painless, and noninvasive.

  1. Stretch your feet:Stretching the plantar fascia and surrounding muscles will help you maintain flexibility and reduce stiffness. Grab your heel and toes and pull them apart like peeling a banana to get a deep and gentle stretch
  2. Strengthen your feet:Use your toes to scrunch up a towel on the floor or do ‘toe yoga’ lifting up each individual toe one at a time..
  3. Use a splint at night: Adjustable or dorsal night splints look like socks. Worn at night, they hold the foot in a lifted position that provides a gentle stretch to maintain plantar facia length while the foot is not in use.
  4. Wear the right shoes: Avoid shoes that don’t fit properly or don’t have enough support, especially if you stand for long periods of time or play sports. You can also use removable orthotic inserts in your shoes to add cushion and minimize stress on your feet.
  5. Rest as needed:Pain is the body’s way of telling us to pay attention—something is wrong. At the first sign of heel pain, dial back your physical activity and give your feet some rest. Slowly introduce yoga, water therapy, and other low-impact exercises once pain subsides.
  6. Schedule a physical therapy screening: Physical therapists carefully assess your symptoms, your lifestyle, and your anatomy to determine the root cause of plantar fascia pain. They create a comprehensive treatment plan to stretch and strengthen structures for healthy, pain-free movement.

Are you ready to say good-bye to heel pain from plantar fasciitis forever, but have questions about how to stay active while preventing pain? An assessment from a trained physical therapist is a great place to start. Find a physical therapy clinic near you.

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