Heel pain has a variety of causes, but plantar fasciitis is the most common culprit by far, according to research published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences1. Heel pain can be concerning, especially if it starts suddenly with no clear cause.
Whether you’re experiencing heel pain related to a known plantar fasciitis diagnosis or this is your first-ever instance of foot pain, you shouldn’t ignore it, as this can lead to increasing issues and a longer recovery time.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is one of the most frequently occurring orthopedic conditions and is the number-one most common source of heel pain. This condition involves the inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a long ligament on the bottom of the foot that supports your arch and connects the front of your foot to your heel. The inflammation itself arises from damage to the plantar fascia over time. This typically results from too much strain being placed on the ligament, which can happen in a variety of ways.
Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms
Plantar fasciitis can present as either a dull, throbbing ache, or a sharp, stabbing pain or burning sensation. This pain occurs on the bottom of the foot, typically toward the heel but sometimes around the arch. Plantar fasciitis can affect both feet at once, but more commonly it just affects one2.
For many people experiencing plantar fasciitis, the pain is most present in the mornings, especially with the first few steps upon leaving bed. This is the classic sign of plantar fasciitis, and the pain typically lessens throughout the day as the affected person continues walking.
However, one exception to this lessening of pain throughout the day relates to activity levels: Prolonged activity or standing can irritate the plantar fascia, causing pain or discomfort to start up again3. This type of activity-related plantar fasciitis flare-up tends to happen after rather than during the activity, and for this reason, it might be experienced as sudden heel pain.
Plantar Fasciitis Causes
There are many potential causes of plantar fasciitis, though in some cases it’s difficult to point to a direct cause4. Following are the most common causes.
Wearing unsupportive footwear
Simply wearing worn-out or unsupportive footwear, like old sneakers or flip-flops, can lead to plantar fasciitis. An easy way to provide more support for the plantar fascia is to purchase new, more supportive footwear or to add insoles to your current shoes.
Having flat feet or high arches
These simple physical factors can place undue strain on the plantar fascia, leading to inflammation. Make sure you choose footwear that supports the shape of your feet, and consider adding an arch-supporting insert if you have high arches.
Being an athlete
Those who engage in more physical activity, especially runners and jumpers or those who work out on hard surfaces, are prone to irritating their plantar fascia. This is especially true for people who don’t properly stretch before and after exertion. For athletes, pain typically occurs after exercising rather than during, which might be experienced as sudden-onset heel pain.
Standing for long periods
People whose jobs or lifestyles involve being on their feet a lot can develop plantar fasciitis, especially if they stand on hard surfaces or use unsupportive footwear.
Does Plantar Fasciitis Come on Suddenly?
Plantar fasciitis develops over time as repetitive strain or stress causes damage to the plantar fascia. With overuse, this ligament can lose some of its elasticity and can become inflamed by regular activity.
Though the pain caused by plantar fasciitis tends to come on gradually, it can also be sudden, like if you jump from a height or come down hard after missing a step. Additionally, prolonged or intense physical activity, going barefoot, or wearing minimally supportive shoes can inflame plantar fasciitis, resulting in sudden heel pain5.
What other conditions can cause sudden heel pain?
Plantar fasciitis is the most common diagnosis when it comes to heel pain, but it isn’t the only cause6.
Heel spurs are bony protrusions that occur on the bottom of the heel bone caused by strain on the muscles and ligaments of the foot. The pain from heel spurs can feel sharp and knife-like or dull and aching, similar to that of plantar fasciitis.
The plantar fascia ligament related to plantar fasciitis can also rupture, causing severe and sudden heel pain, swelling, and bruising. Usually, a rupture of this kind is brought on by trauma like falling or jumping from a height. If you experience extreme heel pain after an impact, you should seek medical care.
Heel pain from excessive pronation can mimic the pain of plantar fasciitis, and it can also cause injury in the hips, knees, and lower back if not addressed.
Achilles tendinitis is another common cause of heel pain, though this pain typically occurs on the back of the heel rather than the bottom.
Plantar Fasciitis Treatments
There are many remedies for plantar fasciitis pain that don’t involve special tools and that can be done anywhere. However, if you’re experiencing significant pain/discomfort that isn’t helped by rest and home remedies, consult a medical professional.
Shoe inserts for plantar fasciitis
Whether you’re dealing with a flare-up from known chronic plantar fasciitis or you’re experiencing heel pain for the first time, Heel Seats or full-length shoe inserts may provide relief. These are especially useful for people with high arches, flat feet, athletes, people who spend a lot of time standing, and people who tend to wear unsupportive or worn-out footwear.
All of Heel That Pain’s inserts include the patented Fascia Bar designed to support the plantar fascia, which might help prevent strain.
Plantar fasciitis stretches
According to Healthline7, there are a few stretches you can do to relieve plantar fasciitis pain caused by tight calf and foot muscles. Incorporating dynamic stretches before physical activity as well as restorative stretches after is an important step in recovering from and preventing heel pain. You can use a foam roller or resistance band to stretch out the muscles in your feet and calves, or you can opt for simple standing or wall stretches that don’t require special tools.
Other heel pain remedies
Rest and ice are common remedies for inflammation, and plantar fasciitis is no exception. You can also massage the bottoms of your heels and arches, try wearing a night splint, or take an NSAID.
How to Prevent Plantar Fasciitis
Preventing plantar fasciitis is similar to treating it, and choosing supportive footwear or inserts and incorporating foot/calf stretches into your daily routine can go a long way. It’s always best to prevent issues rather than react to them, so if you have high arches, flat feet, unsupportive shoes, high activity levels, job or lifestyle that requires a lot of standing, or any other risk factor for foot pain, it’s best to be proactive.
However, if you do feel pain, don’t ignore it — make sure to take care of yourself to prevent long-term issues.