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How to Reduce Plantar Fasciitis Symptoms with Ice and Heat

by Patty Weasler, RN August 23, 2019 0 Comments

Right foot wearing ankle ice pack

Plantar fasciitis causes sharp heel and foot pain along with swelling and inflammation of the fascia; the thick band of tissue running along the bottom of your foot that connects your heel bone to your toes. Using ice or heat for plantar fasciitis is among one of the most common methods for treating these painful symptoms. It’s affordable, effective and easy to do. Here are the best ways to find relief using cold and hot therapy techniques.

Cold Therapy for Plantar Fasciitis

Cold therapy for the treatment of plantar fasciitis causes the blood vessels beneath your skin to constrict, reducing blood flow. This is called vasoconstriction, which reduces swelling and decreases pain by numbing the nerves in the area. However, you do need to be careful because cold can cause muscles to tighten and spasm. Here you’ll find out exactly how to use cold therapy to manage your plantar fasciitis symptoms.

Standard Procedures for Using Ice

To start, you’ll want to use ice in combination with rest, compression and elevation. This will help to reduce the initial swelling and relieve heel pain. Follow these tips for best results:

  • Ice on and off for 15 to 20 minute sessions
  • Avoid direct ice to skin contact, use a towel or cloth barrier to protect your skin
  • Wrap a towel around the outside of your ice pack or use plastic wrap to apply compression to the affected area. You can also try a foot cold wrap, designed with straps to provide compression and secure ice pack in place or an ankle ice pack that covers the majority of your foot.
  • Elevate your foot above or close to heart level. This promotes healing and helps to minimize swelling by allowing for proper circulation. Simply prop your foot up with a couple pillows or use a leg rest pillow for convenience.

If you want to skip the ice, you can try using topical gels that provide cool relief. These formulas target pain the same way as cold packs and help to reduce inflammation. Apply throughout the day as needed!

Using Ice + Massage  

Massage helps to stretch out and loosen the plantar fascia ligaments making the tendons less susceptible to injury and inflammation. Combining the benefits of cold therapy with massage and stretching exercisescan facilitate recovery and help to further relieve, or even prevent painful plantar fasciitis symptoms. Best part is, it’s as simple as using a frozen water bottle. Here’s how:

  1. Fill a disposable 12 or 20 ounce water bottle ¾ full of cold water. Or use a cold massage ball or roller to achieve the same results.
  2. Put the water bottle in the freezer, leaving the cap off. The water bottle will freeze more evenly without a cap on.
  3. Once frozen, take the bottle out of the freezer and put the cap back on.
  4. Place the frozen bottle on its side onto the ground.
  5. While sitting in a chair, roll your foot over the frozen bottle with gentle pressure into your plantar fascia, ensuring it stays on a hard surface.
  6. Do this for 10 to 15 minutes twice a day, never exceeding 20 minutes. 

When to Only Use Ice

  • At nighttime

    If you’re ready to get to sleep and you don’t have time to do contrast therapy at night, only use ice for your foot pain. To really help your pain, also take an Advil (ibuprofen) which acts as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug.

  • The first few days of arch and heel pain

    Initially, your short term focus should be on reducing swelling and pain with ice.

  • After exercise

    If you’ve gone on a long run or had hard workout icing your foot should be your first move.

Heat for Plantar Fasciitis

Another technique for treating plantar fasciitis is using heat therapy. Heat dilates blood vessels bringing more blood to the affected area. Heat should be used sparingly with plantar fasciitis because it can cause increased swelling. Read on to learn our recommendations for how to safely get the most out of heat therapy.  

Standard Procedures for Using Heat

  • Generally, the longer heat is applied to an injury the better. Aim for at least 20 minutes, but it may take up to 2 hours for the best results.
  • Wrap your foot with a heating pad or submerge it in a warm bath ensuring the heel and arch are covered.
  • To prevent skin burns, never use heat therapy while sleeping.
  • When treating plantar fasciitis, alternate between heat and cold for the best results.  

Ways to Get Relief from Heat

  • Heating pads

    Heating pads are an excellent way to provide heat therapy with an adjustable and consistent temperature. Wrap the heating pad around the foot making sure the arch and heel are fully covered. Some heating pads come with a moisture sheet, letting you choose between dry or moist heat therapy.

  • Hot baths/foot soaks

    A hot bath for your feet is a great way to both relax and give your feet the attention they deserve. Fill a small bucket or bin with warm water. You want the water to be hot enough to penetrate deep into your tissues, but not so hot it will burn the skin. Soak your feet until the water starts to cool down.

  • Massage

    A foot massage will produce friction, which creates warmth. This is a good way to help stretch the muscles and loosen the fascia surrounding the muscles in your feet. Plantar fasciitis pain is commonly felt in the morning after the muscles haven’t been stretched or used all night long. Try to massage your feet before you get out of bed with a foot massage ball or tennis ball to prevent that morning pain.

  • Heated massage

    Using a heated massage combines two of the most well-known treatments of plantar fasciitis pain. You can use heat rubs or a massage ball that has been warmed in a microwave. Apply pressure along the bottom of your foot starting at your toes and roll back and forth down to your heel. The massage will break up scar tissue, loosen muscles, and release toxins. Over time with heated massage you should find that you’ll have less plantar fasciitis pain. 

When to Only Use Heat

Ultimately the answer is, very sparingly. Ideally, heat should be used in conjunction with ice. Heat will bring more blood to your foot, helping to increase healing. But, heat alone will cause more pain and swelling.

Alternating Cold & Hot for Plantar Fasciitis

Cold and heat can have positive effects on your plantar fasciitis. Alternating cold and heat therapy is called contrast therapy and can be a great, at-home treatment.

To start with contrast therapy, you’ll need to decide if you will use ice packs and a heating pad or submerge your feet in cold and hot water. Once you’ve picked your method you can begin treating your aching feet. Follow these standard procedures:

  • Start and end with cold therapy. This will further reduce overall inflammation and pain.
  • Cold therapy should be done for one minute and then heat therapy should be performed for three minutes.
  • Alternate back and forth making certain your heel and arch are well covered.

If you find that your pain moves up your Achilles tendon, calf muscle, does not get better, or becomes worse you should talk to your doctor, podiatrist, or physical therapist. They will be able to help you determine the exact cause of your pain and develop an individualized plan.

When to Use Contrast Therapy

  • At night or in the morning

    If you have the time to devote to using both ice and heat you might be able to more effectively treat chronic plantar fasciitis.

  • After your initial injury period

    Once you’ve iced your foot for a few days after the start of plantar fasciitis pain you can move onto using both ice and heat. The combination provides both pain relief and increased blood flow.

Managing Plantar Fasciitis Pain with Ice and Heat

Cold and heat therapy for plantar fasciitis can treat some of the worst symptoms. When used properly in conjunction with other treatments like orthotics, night splints, physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and arch support you may find even better symptom relief. However, based on the simplicity and price, cold and heat therapy is an easy place to begin your plantar fasciitis treatment. If your plantar fasciitis pain continues or worsens, we recommend that you seek help from a medical professional.

Sources:

https://www.omicsonline.org/open-access/evidence-based-use-of-heat-cold-and-nsaids-for-plantar-fasciitis-2329-910X-2-140.pdf

https://www.spine-health.com/treatment/heat-therapy-cold-therapy/how-apply-heat-therapy

SHOP PLANTAR FASCIITIS PRODUCTS
Patty Weasler, RN
Patty Weasler, RN

Patty Weasler is a freelance health writer and nurse. She is certified in critical care nursing and has been practicing for over 10 years. Patty lives in Milwaukee, WI with her husband and three children. She enjoys spending her time with family and educating people about their health.



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