Some of you may have experienced pain on the heel while stepping out of bed. You may think the pain will soon pass, but it may last longer unless you seek medical attention.
As the weather warms up, you may want to do some exercise, perhaps to prepare your body for the summer season, but the pain in the sole inhibits you from doing so.
The thick connective tissues that run from the calcaneus (heel bone) to the five toes, fanwise, are called the plantar fascia.
"Plantar fasciitis" refers to the inflammation in the plantar fascia caused by repetitive movement.
Typically, the sole of a foot is arch-shaped, not flat, to better absorb the shock of walking and running. Plantar fascia helps support the arch and acts as a shock-absorber by protecting joints from direct impact.
One characteristic symptom of plantar fasciitis is the sharp pain while taking the first step out of bed.
Pain usually subsides after a bit of movement. Patients generally do not feel any pain at rest, but it resurges as they begin to move.
Those with plantar fasciitis complain of acute pain that comes from pressed soles. Pain mostly concentrates in the center and fore of the heel, inside and outside. Pain in the front or center of the sole is rare but can happen.
Plantar fasciitis is a common illness, occurring roughly in one of every 10 people. It is commonly believed the illness is more likely to come to people with bodily abnormalities or imbalances, such as flatfoot or hollow foot, or one leg longer than the other. However, patients' daily habits are bigger factors.
According to National Health Insurance Service statistics, plantar fasciitis occurs more frequently among females than males. Women from their 30s to the 50s form the largest group.
As the term "high-heel disease" suggests, wearing high heels for long hours can put excessive stress on the soles, leading to inflammation. Flat shoes are not necessarily better, because the shock is directly applied to the heels.
Females in their 50s and over going through hormonal changes can notice thinning of the fatty layer on their soles. This in turn decreases the shock-absorbing capacities, leading to inflammation.
For males, plantar fasciitis becomes more common before and during their 30s and decreases afterward. Engaging in heavy physical activities such as marathons, football or basketball are considered major causes.
Plantar fasciitis also occurs to people who work standing up, or those with obesity problems. Women who experience a sudden increase of weight from pregnancy are included.
Given enough time, plantar fasciitis can be cured without any special treatment.
However, the fascia — the thick tissue that surrounds the muscle — recovers slowly, much like ligaments and tendons, and it may take several months for a full recovery. Therefore, seeking a more active treatment along with conservative treatments helps speed recovery.
In Oriental medicine, acupuncture, moxibustion and bee venom therapy are used to treat plantar fasciitis.
Tension in the calf muscle and Achilles tendon can cause plantar fascia as a chain reaction. Thus, relieving tension in those areas with acupuncture becomes crucial.
Moxibustion is applied to the sole to alleviate pain. It burns the skin layer to heat and stimulate the nerves and tissue.
This causes changes in the cerebrospinal and autonomic nerves to enhance white blood cells, and thus immunity, while alleviating pain. Bee venom therapy is also proven to be effective in anti-inflammation treatment.
Conservative treatment means maximum possible rest and not overworking your feet. Running and walking long distances and standing for a long time should be avoided.
Even at home, wearing socks lessens the shock to the feet. Cushioned sneakers are better than high heels or flat shoes. If the arch under your feet collapses, it should be supported with orthopedic soles.
Frequently stretching the calf muscles and Achilles heels is recommended. Practice the following instructions:
Stand on the bottom step of stairs with your legs slightly apart and heels just off the end of the step. Hold the stair rail for support. Lower your heels, keeping your knees straight. You should feel the stretch in your calves.
Keep the position for 20-60 seconds and relax. Repeat six times. Follow the regime twice a day.
Treating the plantar fasciitis early is crucial to fast and full recovery. Hoping it will pass in time by itself without any proper medical treatment can aggravate the condition. It may turn into a chronic illness which will require extra time and effort. If you feel pain on the soles, visit your local clinic for professional care.
The writer practices Korean Oriental medicine at the UN Oriental Medical Clinic in Hannam-dong, Seoul. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.