Heel pain is the most common problem affecting the foot, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS), and plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. If the first step you take when you get out of bed in the morning feels like a sharp pain under your heel, you probably have plantar fasciitis, or inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that connects the heel to the front of your foot and supports your arch.
Plantar fasciitis, which usually stems from repeated stress to the foot that strains the fascia beyond its normal extension, is often worse after long periods of inactivity and temporarily diminishes as you begin to walk around. “The fascia relaxes when you’re sleeping and the swelling kicks in more,” says Jacqueline Sutera, DPM, a podiatric surgeon in New York City. “Then, when you stand, you put all your body weight on this inflamed tissue.”
“Plantar fasciitis is aggravated by tight muscles in your feet and calves,” says Dr. Sutera, so stretch your Achilles tendon and calf muscles several times throughout the day. Treatments to reduce inflammation include rest (avoid activities that make the pain worse), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), ice, and massage (rub lengthwise and across your arch, ideally after taking a bath or shower).
Wearing shoes (even slippers) with good arch support is also key, since supporting the arch takes tension off the fascia. Flip-flops, ballerina flats, and going barefoot are no-no’s. Your weight and gait may play a role too: In one study, people with chronic plantar fasciitis were three times more likely to be obese and nearly four times more likely to have feet that roll inward more than normal, so consider orthotics to decrease strain on the plantar fascia.
If pain lingers longer than two weeks, see your doctor, who may recommend physical therapy, cortisone injections, or a night splint.