President Obama’s latest physical examination found him in excellent health, except for one nagging little pain: no, not his political critics. He has “recurrent plantar fasciitis” of the right foot, says his physician.
The condition (pronounced PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis) is one of the most common causes of heel pain, typically occurring in adults ages 40 to 60 (the president is 52). It happens when the thick, protective ligament that runs from the heel bone to the base of the toes, called the plantar fascia, develops small tears and becomes inflamed due to repeated stress.
The condition is particularly common in runners, but it’s also sidelined many stars in pro basketball – a sport the president also loves to play. “Basketball heel,” as foot surgeon Neal Blitz calls it in his Huffington Post column, has benched everyone from Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks to Dwyane Wade of the Miami Heat.
Nonathletes can develop the condition, too, Blitz notes. Obesity, flat feet, tight Achilles tendons, or shoes with poor arch support and thin soles can contribute to the condition, as can jobs that involve long hours spent standing on hard floors, says the Mayo Clinic.
If, like the president, you have heel pain from plantar fasciitis, here are some things that can help.
What you can do
- Increase the flexibility of the Achilles tendon and plantar fascia with stretching exercises.
- Wear shoes that are supportive and well-cushioned.
- Roll your foot over a chilled or frozen bottle of water for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day to reduce inflammation.
- Try to drop some pounds if you’re overweight, to relieve pressure on your feet.
- Take pain relievers such as ibuprofen (which the president takes) or naproxen.
What your doctor can do
- Recommend heel pads or custom-fitted arch supports (orthotics) to reduce the pain.
- Prescribe visits to a physical therapist.
- Give injections of cortisone into the ligament – every two months for a total of three shots max – to relieve inflammation.
- Have you wear a night splint to stretch the plantar fascia.
- For severe chronic plantar fasciitis, your doctor may consider an injection of platelet-rich plasma (PRP) that uses your own blood’s platelets to kick-start healing. Treatments are Food and Drug Administration-approved but may not have permanent results, and insurance doesn’t cover the often considerable cost.
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