Wednesday, October 20, 2004 | Relieve foot strain step by step

WICHITA, Kan. - Some people say it feels like a sharp rock is poking you in the heel with each step.

For Nancy Robinson, it was as if "somebody had taken a hot knife and was twisting it in the bottom of my foot." Orthopedic surgeon Steve Howell has seen plenty of it, as a clinical assistant professor for the University of Kansas School of Medicine-Wichita and during a foot and ankle fellowship at Vanderbilt University.

"It" is plantar fasciitis, or inflammation of the plantar fascia, the ligament running from the base of the toes to the bottom of the heel bone.

It's caused mostly by overuse and -- wouldn't you know it? -- made worse by excess weight and increasing age. Which means you might someday experience it, even if you've never heard of it before.

The good news is, it will go away, though treatment may take more than a year.

Robinson's pain started about 18 months ago. It was gradual at first but kept getting worse, "so that I noticed sometimes I was really grouchy and I didn't know why, and then I'd realize -- my foot hurts really bad."

She speculates that being on her feet a lot (she owns a gift shop) "and I think maybe old age" (she's 57) contributed to the condition.

That's a possibility.

Howell says the blood supply to the ligaments starts declining as we get into our 20s, and the slowing metabolism and increasing weight that often go with getting older add to the stress on ligaments.

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By Karen Shideler

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