Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Foot FAQ

Question:

I'm starting to develop some heel pain that I think is plantar fasciitis. My sister also has this problem. She uses tape during the day and a night splint for sleep that seem to help her. Where can I get these for myself?

Answer:

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain in the United States. The connective tissue along the bottom of the foot is usually involved. This band of tissue is referred to as the plantar aponeurosis or fascia. It runs from the base of the calcaneus (heel bone) to the base of the metatarsal (long toe) bones.

The exact cause of this problem remains a mystery. We know that anything that reduces ankle motion (specifically dorsiflexion -- pulling the toes up toward the face) can result in plantar fasciitis. Obesity seems to be a major factor as well. Standing for long hours on the feet is a third risk factor.

The first step is to find out for sure if your symptoms are really caused by plantar fasciitis. There are many other possible causes of heel pain, including tumors and fractures. You should see your physician for an examination.

If you do indeed have plantar fasciitis, then there are a number of treatment options that might help. Stretching, taping, and a night splint are three of the most common approaches. Calf stretching is advised by many experts. This may help improve ankle motion as well as stretch the surrounding soft tissues.

Adhesive taping seems to offer pain relief -- at least in the short run. Taping may be more effective when it's combined with a heat treatment called iontophoresis. With iontophoresis, a physical therapist uses ultrasound to drive anti-inflammatory chemicals through the skin directly to the inflamed area.

Night splints have a similar use. Besides stretching the soft tissues, this device also holds the foot in proper alignment. This takes the stress and pressure off the plantar fascia. Reducing strain and load on the fascia and maintaining the proper foot arch may provide pain relief and improved function of the foot and ankle complex.

All of these treatment approaches can be obtained through the services and skills of a physical therapist. If anything is going to help, the treatment methods described here will be effective in one to three months. Your physician will help determine the best approach for you and follow your progress throughout this time. Thomas G. McPoil, PT, PhD, et al. Clinical Guidelines. Heel Pain -- Plantar Fasciitis. In Journal of Orthopaedics & Sports Physical Therapy. April 2008. Vol. 38. No. 4. Pp. A1-A18.

*Disclaimer:* The information contained herein is compiled from a variety of sources. It may not be complete or timely. It does not cover all diseases, physical conditions, ailments or treatments. The information should NOT be used in place of visit with your healthcare provider, nor should you disregard the advice of your health care provider because of any information you read in this topic.
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