If you’re a runner, or you spend a lot of time training for some kind of athletic competition, you might have heard the term plantar fascia, but even if you haven’t, you likely will at least have heard of “jogger’s heel.” This phrase means a plantar fascia injury like a tear and it can be extremely painful and potentially debilitating if not treated.
You know that your feet are made up of bones that are connected to each other and held in place by ligaments and muscle. The heel bone is connected to the front part of the foot where your toes are. This long strip of muscle is attached to the heel bone on one side and stretched across the foot to the toes. The problem is if this tissue gets torn, or you get inflammation or swelling of this ligament, it causes issues with the bones that it is connected to, particularly the heel bone. This means that the person who tears the plantar fascia experiences pain in the heel and throughout the arch of the foot.
It also means that unless this injury is treated, it could get worse, and if it does, it could eventually be very debilitating. But thankfully it actually isn’t too difficult to prevent a tear in the tissue of the plantar fascia if you know some basic facts about your training and about the physiology of your feet.
How a Plantar Fascia Tear is Characterized
The tear of the plantar fascia ligament usually presents itself with acute pain in the arch of the feet after a particularly strenuous workout or one where your feet made contact with a hard, unyielding surface repetitively. This injury is quite painful and can make walking, standing and even sitting and resting quite painful. Doctors generally manage this with stronger pain medication than you can buy over the counter. NSAID’s and methods of reducing swelling can also help, allowing the muscle to loosen and not put as much stress on the connective tissue and bones.
The Common and Uncommon Causes of a Plantar Fascia Tear
The term “jogger’s heel” usually refers to the condition plantar fasciitis, which is the inflammation and swelling of that ligament which can result in tearing. While many people, even some medical experts, group all of the injuries that can happen with this ligament as “plantar fasciitis.” However, there are three distinct forms: swelling/inflammation, tear or tears of the muscle tissue and a rupture of the plantar fascia.
- So, the number one cause of a plantar fascia tear is the condition plantar fasciitis itself. This condition needs to be treated right away if you are suffering from it, because if that inflammation and tightness of the muscle gets too much pressure from the bones of the feet (which are pulling at the ligament and exacerbating the injury) it can cause a tear.
- Another common cause of inflammation or tearing in the plantar fascia is an increase in weight over a short period of time. Pregnancy is the perfect example because it happens so quickly. Men can gain weight rapidly as well and that can be just as tough on their feet as it is for women.
- High-Impact Exercise: Professional athletes, runners and others who repetitively have their feet striking the ground can cause any of the conditions listed, inflammation, tearing or rupturing.
- Starting a new job or task where you must stand for many hours, particularly if you are overweight, because it puts a lot of pressure on the plantar fascia muscle.
- People that have flat feet or the reduced ability to bend their ankle upward are at risk of this injury and must be more careful than most. In addition, systemic diseases like diabetes cause changes in the bones of the feet and muscles and that puts sufferers of diabetes, rheumatism and mellitus at much higher risk for this type of injury.
Identifying Tears of the Plantar Fascia
The first step in preventing this condition is to know what the symptoms are and be able to identify when you might have developed the condition and get treatment right away. Let’s go over the specific symptoms and then we’ll delve into some sound advice on preventing a plantar fascia tear in the first place.
Of course, your doctor should make the actual diagnosis after getting history and information on the injury and doing a physical examination of the foot. Your doctor will most likely order X-Rays in order to rule out some of the other things that could be causing pain in the heels and may even send you for an MRI.
The most noticeable symptom is heel pain, as well as pain in the arch of the foot. The area may be tender and painful to the touch.
Tips to Prevent a Plantar Fascia Tear
- Try to Relax – if you can relax your lower legs, calves and ankles you will be ahead of the game. Tension in the legs can contribute to plantar fasciitis.
- Land evenly when you walk or run. When you land evenly on the middle part of your foot instead of the heel you are helping your feet stay healthy and not tighten up that plantar tendon. Also, the less impact that your heels sustain, the better.
- One of the treatments for plantar fasciitis is stretching of both the toes and of the calves. If you do exercises that stretch out these muscles you will keep the tension down and be able to prevent fasciitis. Wall stretches for the calves work very well as do pulling your feet toward you, one at a time, with a towel or a rope.
- When you walk or run, stay on flat surfaces and if possible, run on a slightly yielding surface.
- Avoid stairs. It might seem like good exercise (well, it is), but it puts an enormous strain on your plantar fascia.
- Get regular foot massages from someone who knows how to massage deep into the tissue and relax that tendon.