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Plantar fasciitis

3-minute read

What is plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a piece of strong, thick tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot. It connects the heel bone to the toes, creating the arch of the foot.

Plantar fasciitis is a common cause of heel pain and can develop as a result of overstretching, overuse or a medical condition.

Plantar fasciitis is often associated with a heel spur, a spike of bone poking out from the heel bone, although many people have heel spurs without any pain.

Illustration showing plantar fasciitis.
Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the plantar fascia from overstretching, overuse or a medical condition.

What are the symptoms of plantar fasciitis?

The main symptom of plantar fasciitis is pain under the heel, which can be dull or sharp. The foot sole may ache or burn and the heel may be slightly swollen.

The pain is often worse:

  • in the morning, as you take your first steps
  • after prolonged standing or sitting
  • after intense activity

What causes plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis can be caused by:

  • playing sports and doing activities that put stress on the heel bone, such as running, dance and aerobics
  • being flat-footed or having high arches
  • being middle-aged or older
  • being overweight
  • pregnancy
  • spending a lot of time on your feet
  • wearing shoes with poor arch support or stiff soles
  • having tight calf muscles

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How is plantar fasciitis diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you might have plantar fasciitis, they will probably ask you some questions, including asking you about your symptoms, the type of work you do and your lifestyle.

They will probably do a physical exam to check the arches of your feet and to see whether there is any redness, swelling, tenderness, stiffness or tightness.

They may also refer you for an x-ray or ultrasound scan, which is sometimes needed to rule out other possible causes of heel pain.

How is plantar fasciitis treated?

Your doctor may initially recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • pain-relief medicine, such as ibuprofen or paracetamol
  • physiotherapy with specific stretching exercises to stretch the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia
  • resting your foot as much as possible
  • wearing shoes with good support and cushioning
  • wearing orthotics
  • night splints to wear while sleeping
  • heel pads and arch supports in your shoes (orthotics)
  • an icepack applied to your foot for 10 to 20 minutes up to 4 times daily

If these measures don't work, your doctor may give you steroid injections in your heel. Very occasionally, people have surgery designed to treat plantar fasciitis.

Resources and support

If you need to know more about plantar fasciitis, or to get advice on what to do next, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 to speak with a registered nurse, 24 hours, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2021


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