If you’re dealing with chronic heel pain, one likely culprit is plantar fasciitis. It’s a common foot injury that can cause a stabbing pain in the bottom of your foot near the heel. It sometimes resolves on its own, but there are a few simple home treatments that also can help.
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The plantar fascia is a band of deep tissue that runs from your heel bone to your toes. Plantar fasciitis is deformation or a tear of that tissue. It causes irritation, inflammation, and, eventually, pain.
Sports chiropractor Thomas Torzok, DC, says the problem typically develops over time. It also can take some time to heal — anywhere from months to a year, he says.
“The plantar fascia is not a tissue with great blood supply or high metabolic activity,” he notes. “It probably takes years for plantar fasciitis to form to the point where you start to notice it. And, as a result, it takes some time for it to heal. Once it’s irritated, it’s pretty stubborn.”
Despite this, he says there are some simple things you can do at home to combat the problem. But first, you need to understand why it’s happening.
Why does my heel hurt?
Plantar fasciitis is often an overuse injury, typically from sports-related activities that involve running or jumping. It also may trace back to abnormal foot mechanics or poor footwear choices, Dr. Torzok explains.
“Usually, you’ll feel pain upon initial weight-bearing in the bottom of your foot,” he says. “Sometimes that will occur first thing in the morning when you wake up.”
Other factors that can increase your risk of developing plantar fasciitis include:
- Age. It’s more common between the ages of 30 and 60.
- Obesity. Additional weight can put undue stress on the plantar fascia.
- Prolonged standing. Standing on hard surfaces for several hours or longer can damage the tissue.
What can you do for plantar fasciitis?
Simple home treatments can often resolve plantar fasciitis, especially if you catch it early. But it may take longer to heal if it has worsened over time.
“Plantar fasciitis may go away after you stretch your foot out and walk around for a while,” Dr. Torzok says. “But for some people, prolonged standing or sitting may aggravate it again. It’s bearing the entire amount of your body weight, and that can lead to delayed recovery.”
Try these tips for relief:
- Rest and stretch. If overuse is the likely cause of your pain, rest is one key to recovery. And, it’s a good idea to couple that with daily stretching exercises. Foot exercises allow you to keep the plantar fascia from pulling and tightening up, so it’s better able to bear your weight when you get moving again.
- Wear proper footwear. Make sure you get a good fit and avoid flat shoes that lack support. “Find proper shoes to match your actual foot and biomechanics,” Dr. Torzok says. “Arch supports might help some people.” He also advises people not to walk barefoot around the house. “This can stress the tissue in the bottom of the foot even more. Instead, wear running shoes or sneakers — something with natural arch support — so they don’t deform that tissue and chronically stretch and irritate it,” he says.
- Ice your feet. Roll your foot over a frozen water bottle for 5 minutes, or hold an ice pack over the bottom of your foot for 15 minutes, three times a day. Also use the ice treatment after any strenuous activity or extended periods of standing or sitting, Dr. Torzok says.
- Wear a splint. For more severe cases, a night splint can brace your foot and ankle in the proper position as you sleep. “Night splints will help stretch the plantar fascia and alleviate the pain,” he says.
If the pain continues, talk to your doctor
If home treatment isn’t working, get help, Dr. Torzok says. Your doctor can make sure the pain you’re feeling is from plantar fasciitis — and further advise you if it isn’t.
“That’s the tricky thing, because other factors can cause pain in the bottom of your feet,” he says. “So if you’re still in pain after working on relieving it for a few days, call your doctor.”