Sometimes, life can be a pain in the … heel. Just ask President Barack Obama.
Recently, the commander-in-chief underwent a routine physical examination and was given a clean bill of health, except in one area – his feet. His doctor diagnosed him as having symptoms consistent with plantar fasciitis, which causes pain when standing or walking.
Common foot complaint
“This is the biggest complaint we get from the patients we see,” said Dr. Johnny Alayon, a podiatric physician with Ankle & Foot Care Centers. “This is common among people over 30, but sometimes it will happen with younger people who are very active.”
Plantar fasciitis occurs when the ligament (plantar fascia) connecting the heel to the toe, supporting the foot’s arch, becomes strained or irritated. This tissue can become inflamed for many reasons, most commonly from irritation by placing too much stress (such as excess running and jumping) on the bottom of the foot.
“You feel this heel pain when you try to get out of bed in the morning and you feel like an old man,” said Dr. Alayon, who has been a practicing podiatrist for more than 13 years. “You get up and stretch it out and then the pain goes away. But then, maybe a month later, it happens again. Maybe then the pain is so bad that nothing you do stops it from hurting.”
Plantar fasciitis is referred to as an “overuse injury” and commonly affects athletes who try to do too much or who do not stretch properly before starting their activities. The injury is most common with athletes participating in basketball, soccer and baseball.
For President Obama, too much basketball might be the culprit. It’s well known that he plays regularly, and the repetitive jumping and movement could be taking their toll. Jumping increases the bodyweight force that the foot has to absorb by several times.
“We see these types of injuries in athletes, as well as in “weekend warriors,” who don’t stretch or think they are 16 again and try to do the things they used to do,” said Dr. Alayon. “Some of this pain can be prevented before treatment is needed.”
Dr. Alayon suggests these tips for preventing plantar fasciitis and other types of heel pain:
– Stretch. We aren’t always encouraged to stretch before and after our activities. But to avoid injury, you need to stretch regularly – even before you get out of bed in the morning.
– Evaluate your feet. It’s natural for your foot to change as you age. When it does, your ligaments do, too. Every five to seven years, your foot could change – become flatter, wider or longer. You need to evaluate these changes and make sure you have the right footwear for your activity.
– Choose proper footwear. If you are very active, you need to evaluate your footwear often. How old are your shoes? If you’re a runner, the soles of your shoes are only supportive enough for 500 miles. They might still look good, but they won’t support you like they need to. Generally speaking, for an active person, you should change your shoes about every six months.
Non-athletes develop the condition as well, with approximately 10 percent suffering from the condition at some point in life. General causes for plantar fasciitis include obesity, flat feet, repetitive trauma, tight Achilles tendon and/or poor shoe choice.
Fortunately, plantar fasciitis responds favorably with simple treatments such as rest, ice, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, proper shoe choices, night splints, orthotics and/or cortisone injections. Plantar fasciitis surgery is reserved for people who don’t get better despite treatment.
“Almost 100 percent of the time, we can treat this conservatively, without surgery,” explained Dr. Alayon. “The biggest thing is that if the pain is becoming progressively worse or won’t go away even after stretching and evaluating your shoes, you need to see a podiatrist. There might be other more serious reasons for your pain and we need to figure that out.”