When Plantar Fasciitis Is So Bad You Can’t Walk
Medically reviewed by Adam H. Kaplan, DPM
While some individuals may find walking extremely challenging due to the pain and inflammation of plantar fasciitis, others may still be able to walk with varying degrees of discomfort. Specific measures that have been found helpful in managing plantar fasciitis include rest, ice therapy, proper footwear, stretching exercises, and physical therapy.
This article will explore short-term relief and long-term management for those affected by plantar fasciitis so severely they can't walk.
When Is Plantar Fasciitis Bad Enough to Keep You From Walking?
Plantar fasciitis is a common foot condition characterized by inflammation and discomfort of the plantar fascia, a large band of tissue that spans the underside of the foot, linking the heel bone to the toes.
This condition often stems from repetitive strain and overuse of the foot, leading to micro-tears and seething pain and discomfort. Symptoms typically include sharp or stabbing pain in the heel or arch of the foot, especially upon taking the first steps in the morning or after prolonged rest periods.
Plantar fasciitis typically manifests as pain in the heel or arch of the foot. The most common symptoms of plantar fasciitis include:
Pain localized on the underside of the foot, specifically near the heel
Discomfort during initial steps taken after waking up in the morning or following a prolonged period of rest, such as after a long car ride. However, the pain tends to subside within a few minutes of walking.
Heightened pain after physical activity (not during the actual exertion itself)
The severity of pain experienced in plantar fasciitis varies. While some may find walking extremely challenging due to the pain and inflammation, others may still be able to walk with varying degrees of discomfort.
Factors that Exacerbate Plantar Fasciitis
Several factors can worsen the pain and inflammation associated with plantar fasciitis, including:
Wearing footwear or shoes with inadequate arch support
Engaging in activities that involve repetitive impact on the foot, such as running or jumping
Walking or standing on hard surfaces for extended periods
Weight gain or obesity, which places additional stress on the feet
Tight muscles in the feet and calves
It's important to note that the experience of pain and its exacerbating factors can vary among individuals.
First Things First: When You Can’t Walk Because of Plantar Fasciitis
If you cannot walk due to the pain caused by plantar fasciitis, the first step is to seek medical advice from a healthcare provider. They can accurately diagnose your condition and provide appropriate guidance and treatment options.
In the meantime, it is essential to rest and avoid putting weight on the affected foot to prevent further aggravation. To manage the initial pain of plantar fasciitis effectively, consider the following steps:
Rest and avoid activities that exacerbate the pain.
Apply ice to the affected area for about 15 to 20 minutes several times daily. This helps reduce inflammation and provides pain relief. Using a frozen water bottle for the foot is especially helpful.
Massage your foot with a massage gun or roll your foot over a small ball (i.e., a tennis ball or golf ball).
Take over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen or naproxen, can help reduce pain and inflammation.
Consult with your healthcare provider before taking new medications, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions or are taking other medications.
Short-Term Relief for Severe Plantar Fasciitis
To expedite the healing process of your plantar fascia, it is beneficial to alleviate weight and pressure from your foot, even if only partially. Your healthcare provider may suggest a combination of the following strategies:
Use night splints, which keep the foot and calf in a stretched position while you sleep. This helps maintain proper alignment and can reduce morning pain and stiffness.
Wear footwear that provides arch support or experiment with heel cups or other orthotic inserts to cushion the heel.
Corticosteroid injections for temporary pain relief.
Custom foot orthotics.
Apply athletic tape to your foot to provide support to muscles and ligaments.
Decrease the distances and duration of your walks or runs to minimize strain on the plantar fascia.
Do low-impact exercises such as swimming or cycling as alternatives to jumping or running activities.
Shock wave therapy may also be effective for pain relief and involves the application of either low-energy or high-energy shock waves to the area. These shock waves create minuscule injuries, stimulating a healing response from the body. This process is believed to facilitate the healing of the plantar fascia.
The good news is that many nonoperative treatments mentioned above can help resolve pain in about 90% of people in about three to six months. In some cases, treatments may be needed for up to 18 months to two years before symptoms improve.
Long-Term Management of Chronic Plantar Fasciitis
If people continue to experience symptoms despite six months of nonoperative therapy, minimally invasive treatments or surgery may be considered, such as:
Platelet-rich plasma injections and therapeutic ultrasound: Stimulates the body's healing response
Botulinum toxin injections: Relax the calf muscles, reducing stress on the plantar fascia.
Operative treatments such as gastrocnemius recession and medial head of gastrocnemius release: Decrease stress on the plantar fascia
Partial plantar fasciotomy: A surgical procedure that stimulates a healing response in the affected area.
Surgery is rarely necessary for plantar fasciitis except in severe cases. Remember that more invasive treatments may also have more side effects and risks. Always discuss options with your healthcare provider to decide on the right one for you.
Stretching and Physical Therapy
Your provider may recommend physical therapy to help you stretch and strengthen the muscles in your foot. This can help improve flexibility and alleviate pain. Common exercises include calf stretches, toe stretches, and towel curls.
There is evidence that working with a physical therapist helps plantar fasciitis recovery. Researchers analyzed a 2017 database on 819,963 people diagnosed with plantar fasciitis. They discovered that people who received manual therapy required fewer visits and incurred lower healthcare costs, specifically $340 less. These findings align with previous studies indicating that individuals who undergo evidence-based physical therapy for their foot pain tend to recover more quickly.
How to Walk Easier With Plantar Fasciitis
If you find yourself unable to walk due to the discomfort caused by plantar fasciitis, see your healthcare provider right away. They can accurately diagnose your condition and offer advice and treatment options that are right for you.
While you wait for a medical consultation, it is crucial to prioritize rest and refrain from putting any weight on the affected foot. This approach will help prevent further aggravation and promote healing. Initial pain management treatments may include OTC pain relievers and applying ice.
However, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional before using them, especially if you have any underlying medical conditions or are currently taking other medications.
Plantar fasciitis can cause severe pain in the heel and bottom of the foot. But if you're experiencing this, there is good news! There are many treatments available to help you. The first step is to see your healthcare provider so they can diagnose your condition accurately and provide further guidance. In the meantime, it's essential to rest and avoid putting weight on the affected foot.
With proper care and treatment, you'll be on the path to recovery and getting back on your feet quickly. Remember to be patient and take care of yourself during this healing process.