Q: Does exercise increase your chances of developing plantar fasciitis or help protect against it?
A: Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation in a band of tissue that runs from your heel to the bones in the ball of your foot, and it makes walking quite painful. One of the most common orthopedic complaints involving the feet, it most often occurs after age 40. Exercise increases your risk of plantar fasciitis if you run long distances, especially on hills or uneven surfaces, or exercise in shoes that don’t provide enough support in the arch of the foot or padding in the heel. On the other hand, risk of plantar fasciitis also increases with excess body weight or when the Achilles tendon (the tendon connecting the muscles in the calf of your leg to your heel) gets tight. Adequate exercise is a key factor in avoiding weight gain, and proper stretching to keep ankles, calf muscles and Achilles tendons flexible helps reduce risk of plantar fasciitis. One of the main symptoms of plantar fasciitis is heel pain when you first get out of bed or stand up after sitting for an extended time; the pain usually gets better as you walk a bit more, but gets worse as the day continues. If you think you have plantar fasciitis, see your health care provider to make sure this is the cause of your pain. It can take quite awhile for the problem to resolve, but most people do feel better within a year if they take certain actions. Because it can take so long to improve, and can pose such an obstacle to the exercise that keeps you healthy, it’s important to talk with your doctor about how much to rest, how to gradually add activity back in, and what sort of shoes, inserts, stretching exercises or even night splints on your foot you might need. Work with your health care provider to find alternative ways to be physically active in a way that is safe and comfortable for you. The American Academy of Family Practice website shows two stretches that are recommended to be done twice a day to help resolve or prevent plantar fasciitis, but do make sure to get individualized advice from your doctor before you try them if you already have this condition.