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How to Manage Plantar Fasciitis Pain Without Drugs

You could get relief from plantar fasciitis pain with physical therapy, orthotics or even home remedies. Will one of these get you moving again?

Plantar fasciitis pain, which frequently appears as pain in the heel, can really interfere with your activity. Running, tennis, dancing or even walking may be excruciating. Doctors may prescribe pain relievers or anti-inflammatory corticosteroid shots. However, researchers have not found that one treatment stands out above the others. Often, people may get good relief from physical therapy. Here is one reader’s account.

Physical Therapy Helped Ease Heel Pain:

Q. Not long ago, a woman wrote you about heel pain due to plantar fasciitis. [Gentle reader, that story follows this one. Please keep reading.] When I had this problem, I sought physical therapy for it.

What helped most was the physical therapist massaging diclofenac sodium cream into my heel. That got rid of the pain for several hours. At the time, the cream was only available by prescription but now you can buy it OTC.

After about six months, I finally got rid of the heel pain permanently by stretching my foot several times a day. I’d pull my toes toward me with my hands for up to 30 seconds at a time. You can find demonstrations of this stretch online. I continue doing these stretches every day 10 years later, and the plantar fasciitis has not returned.

A. We’re not surprised that the topical NSAID diclofenac (Voltaren Gel) helped ease your heel pain. The foot stretch you describe is often recommended to help prevent or overcome plantar fasciitis.

Other readers report that home remedies can be helpful.

Strenuous Walking Routine Triggered Foot Pain:

Q. I got back into a walking routine recently, but I did too much, too fast. As a result, I developed plantar fasciitis in my right heel. I’ve always been a fast walker and could go for miles with no problems if I wanted. That’s why I figured that starting back up would only be a good thing.

I’ve found no suggestions for curing plantar fasciitis, other than ‘stay off your feet.’ That’s impossible, even though I have, of course, stopped the long walks.

I thought that using an elliptical instead would keep pressure off my heel, but it didn’t help. Neither did extra heel pads in my shoes. Do you have any suggestions?

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

A. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of a band of tissue on the sole connecting the heel bone to bones near the ball of the foot. We asked The People’s Pharmacy podiatrist Jane Andersen, DPM, about this common condition.

One of the most important steps is to wear supportive footgear such as OOFOS or Vionic sandals even in the house. No walking barefoot!

Dr. Andersen recommends gentle stretching before getting out of bed. You could do this yourself or have a partner gently press the toes toward the knees for a few minutes. Such stretching can reduce pain and strengthen the leg muscles (Journal of Musculoskeletal & Neuronal Interactions, Sep. 1, 2020). When the heel is painful, icing or massaging may help.

OTC or customized orthotic inserts may also be beneficial. Some people take an anti-inflammatory supplement such as turmeric or curcumin, and that may sometimes ease the pain.

Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis Pain:

Q. My doctor recommended naproxen for my plantar fasciitis pain. It gave me chest pain and irregular heart rhythms, so I stopped taking it. I do have high blood pressure, so I should avoid medicines that raise blood pressure. What else can I take to relieve the pain?

Managing Plantar Fasciitis:

Orthotics:

A. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of the tissue that runs along the bottom of the foot from the heel to the toe. Orthotics that fit in your shoes can often alleviate plantar fasciitis. Although the podiatrist can customize a pair, generic orthotics can also be helpful. You should be able to purchase these at the pharmacy or online. They may tide you over until you can see your podiatrist in person.

Stretches:

Stretches may also help reduce plantar fasciitis pain. Calf stretches before bedtime may be helpful. We have found that stretching the toes toward the knee before rising, either against the footboard or with the help of a partner, can ease the pain of the first several steps out of bed.

Drug Drawbacks:

You are correct that oral nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen or ibuprofen can increase blood pressure. As a result, people taking such medicines may suffer heart attacks or strokes (American Journal of Medicine, Dec. 2017). Even though naproxen and ibuprofen are available over the counter, neither would be our first choice to treat chronic pain like that of plantar fasciitis.

Home Remedies:

Natural anti-inflammatory approaches include fish oil and tart cherry juice. We have included details about these and other options in our book, The People’s Pharmacy Quick & Handy Home Remedies. If you can’t find it in your local public library, you can get a copy here. You may also wish to listen to both our interviews with Dr. Jane Andersen, podiatrist. They are Show 1183: How to Manage Your Foot Problems and Show 1304: Fixing Your Foot Problems.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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