With non-intimidating names like ‘Jogger’s Heel,’ ‘Tennis Heel,’ and even ‘Policeman’s Heel,’ plantar fasciitis seems quite harmless on the face of it.
But with a staggering one million visits made to medical professionals each year due to the condition, it’s a sneaky condition that can leave you with intense heel pain.
Spanning from the bottom of your foot to your toes, plantar fasciitis can cause stabbing pain, disrupt sleep, and reduce mobility for millions.
While traditional treatments like non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can cause some temporary relief, they don’t address the underlying inflammation.
To get to the bottom of this discomfort, let’s look at infrared light therapy for plantar fasciitis and how you can take control of your pain at home, rather than continuing the never-ending cycle of pain medication.
Understanding Plantar Fasciitis
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, which is a thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot, connecting your heel bone to your toes.
It comprises three parts: the medial, central, and lateral bands. The central part is the strongest and the most likely to be affected by inflammation.
This area of the foot bolsters the arch of the foot, providing support and tension, whilst playing an important role in walking and general mobility.
Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis
Typically felt near the heel or arch, plantar fasciitis has some common symptoms across those who suffer from it.
One of the most typical is a sharp pain that can heighten when taking the first steps in the morning or after long periods of sitting.
The pain is often said to worsen with prolonged standing or walking. Or it could feel more intense when wearing shoes with minimal support or barefoot.
Causes of Plantar Fasciitis
Going back to the sports-related names for the condition, overuse or strain of the plantar fascia is a major cause hence why jogging or running can put repetitive stress on the heel.
But while athletes are perhaps more susceptible to experiencing this, anyone can get plantar fasciitis.
Other causes include:
- Sudden weight gain, putting more pressure on the feet.
- Tight calf muscles or achilles tendon that causes decreased flexibility in the ankle.
- Flat feet or high foot arches may put abnormal strain on the area.
- Worn-out or ill-fitting shoes that don’t provide the right arch support.
Traditional Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis
Historically, treatment for plantar fasciitis has included:
- Anti-inflammatory medications like NSAIDs to reduce pain and inflammation.
- Specific stretches to improve flexibility.
- Physical therapy exercises to strengthen lower leg and foot muscles.
- Custom orthotics or supportive shoe inserts to improve arch support.
- Night splints to keep the plantar fascia stretched overnight.
- Casting or tapping the foot immobilizes the plantar fascia and allows healing.
If conservative treatments fail, more invasive options like corticosteroid injections or surgery may be considered. However, these often come with more risks.
Introduction To Near-Infrared Light Therapy As A Treatment For Plantar Fasciitis
What is Near-Infrared Light Therapy?
Near-infrared light therapy uses a light-emitting diode (LED) to beam a concentrated wavelength onto specific areas of the body.
The wavelengths are located within the invisible spectrum (barely visible to the naked eye) and deliver energy to the cells. Once delivered, this stimulates healing, relieves pain, and activates all the benefits that near-infrared light is known for.
One of the main standouts of near-infrared light is how deep it can penetrate to provide that much-needed energy, with wavelengths ranging from 700 to 2500nm.
It’s completely non-invasive and heals wounds, repairs tissue, and provides pain management and relief.
How Does It Work?
When the near-infrared light is absorbed by cells, it stimulates mitochondria and increases ATP (adenosine triphosphate) production. ATP is the primary energy source for cells. The boost in ATP provides cells with more energy to carry out their normal functions and self-repair mechanisms.
Near-infrared light also improves blood circulation and oxygen supply to tissues. It helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation at a cellular level. The light positively affects nerve stimulation and can block pain signal transmission. Overall, it kickstarts and accelerates the body's natural healing processes.
Near-Infrared Light Therapy at Home Treatments for Plantar Fasciitis
Why Choose Home Treatments?
It’s easy to see why opting for at-home near-infrared light therapy treatments for plantar fasciitis is an appealing option, especially as it’s super convenient.
By having a device at home, you can receive treatments in the comfort of your own home without having to commute to a sterile and intimidating clinic.
As you can take control of the treatment, you’ll have more flexibility over timings and frequency so you can integrate it smoothly into your lifestyle. For example, you may want to do short 5-minute sessions multiple times daily when pain flares up. This isn’t possible or easy to achieve if you’re having to venture out multiple times a day for a mere 5 minutes.
Being able to access treatments at home means you can have faster and almost instant pain relief compared to limited clinical visits which are often booked way in advance.
Due to this, these home devices are cost-effective in the long run in comparison to paying per-session fees at a clinic.
Beyond the cost and pain benefits, home devices are easy to set up and use. As long as you follow the simple recommended guidelines, they’re safe too.
Overall, at-home treatments empower you to take an active role in caring for your feet.
Setting Up Your Home Treatment
To set up near-infrared light therapy for plantar fasciitis at home, first select a device designed specifically for foot and lower body pain. Look for LED pads or panels that emit light in the 600-1000nm wavelength range.
Position the device directly against the bare skin of the painful areas - this may be focused on the heel, arch, or cover the entire plantar area of the feet. Most quality devices will have presets to deliver the recommended light energy density of 4-6 J/cm2 per treatment for optimal plantar fasciitis relief.
Use the device for 5-10 minutes per treatment, once or twice daily, depending on your current pain levels. It's important to treat both feet equally, even if only one foot is symptomatic. While seated, you can place your feet on the panels.
Lying down with feet elevated is another comfortable position that ensures good contact between your skin and the LEDs.
Monitoring Progress At Home
Before and after doing infrared light therapy for plantar fasciitis, take a note of your pain levels on a simple 0-10 scale. Record the frequency, duration, and corresponding pain relief of your treatments.
This is helpful to track as you’ll learn more about your symptoms and when the pain flares, as well as being able to see the progress that is being made.
Over the course of weeks, watch for changes in morning pain and pain with activity. Take photos periodically to compare visible inflammation and swelling. Also, keep an eye out for any negative reactions or new types of foot pain.
If your plantar fasciitis pain persists beyond 8-12 weeks of frequent at-home near-infrared therapy, consult your doctor. Additional medications, foot support, physical therapy, or shock wave therapy may be warranted at that point to supplement the light treatments.
But in most cases, near-infrared light therapy is an excellent home treatment option for relieving plantar fasciitis discomfort.
Mechanism of Near-Infrared Light Therapy For Plantar Fasciitis
Cellular Mechanism in Plantar Fasciitis Treatment
Near-infrared light therapy provides pain relief and supports healing in plantar fasciitis at a cellular level in a few key ways. Firstly, the light energy is absorbed by cells within the plantar fascia tissue itself. This stimulates increased production of ATP, the primary energy source used by cells.
With higher ATP levels, plantar fascia cells have more energy available to carry out the metabolically demanding process of repairing microtears and regenerating damaged tissue.
near-infrared light also improves local circulation in the plantar fascia area. It stimulates the formation of new tiny blood vessels (angiogenesis) as well as vasodilation of existing blood vessels.
The improved circulation delivers more oxygenated blood and nutrients like amino acids and glucose to aid tissue regeneration. It also helps flush out inflammatory factors that build up and irritate nerve endings, causing pain.
On a molecular level, near-infrared light counters inflammation by reducing levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines like interleukin-1, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. It also suppresses activation of the NF-kB protein complex that coordinates inflammatory responses. This combination of effects at the cellular and molecular level results in decreased inflammation-related irritation of nerve cells and pain fibers.
Pain Relief and Near-Infrared Light Therapy
Near-infrared light therapy can produce significant reductions in plantar fascia pain after just a few treatment sessions. There are a few mechanisms at play to explain the rapid pain relief it provides.
As it reduces inflammation, these anti-inflamamtory effects lower oxidative stress, increase local circulation, inhibit inflammatory cytokines, and block prostaglandin production. This is a major plus as the swelling is a significant contributor to the stabbing pain that patients feel.
In addition, near-infrared light therapy helps block pain signal transmission through two actions: it alters nerve cell membrane permeability to sodium ions and it modifies nerve thresholds, making nerves less excitable to pain stimuli.
It also stimulates the release of endogenous opioids and endorphins which have natural analgesic properties. Patients report experiencing less pain at rest, with their first morning steps, and with activity. This enables them to stay mobile and active which further aids long-term recovery.
By addressing both the inflammation and pain signalling aspects, near-infrared light provides well-rounded relief for plantar fasciitis heel pain.
Improving Mobility and Function
As near-infrared light therapy works to resolve pain and inflammation, people are able to experience improved mobility and foot function. This means the ability to bear weight, walk, stand, exercise, and perform daily activities for longer durations without flare-ups of debilitating heel pain.
Things like climbing stairs, grocery shopping, or doing household chores become less painful and difficult. This makes everyday life much easier.
These progressive improvements in mobility are supported by increased flexibility and elasticity of the plantar fascia tissue itself. Near-infrared light stimulates collagen production, realigning plantar fascia fibers that have tightened or shortened from chronic inflammation. This restores normal movement to the plantar fascia and foot biomechanics.
By enabling regular pain-free use of the feet, near-infrared light therapy helps to gradually rebuild plantar fascia strength, stability, and function. It helps prevent re-injury or repeated strain and means people can resume their regular exercise routines and daily activities without foot pain or limitations.
Benefits of Using Near-infrared Light Therapy for Plantar Fasciitis
Immediate Pain Relief
When using near-infrared light therapy for plantar fasciitis, most people feel the immediate pain relief - often felt after just the first treatment.
This rapid reduction in pain is attributed to decreased inflammation, reduced nerve irritation, and short-term endorphin release.
This pain is also felt less at rest, when taking the first steps, and with activities like standing or exercise. For some, this effect provides complete pain relief lasting up to a couple of days following each treatment.
For others, it eliminates enough pain to stay active with less reliance on medications. Either way, the fast improvements are incredibly motivating.
Long-Term Pain Relief
While some pain relief is felt immediately, the effects become longer lasting and cumulative with multiple near-infrared light therapy sessions. People report sustained pain relief, reduced morning foot stiffness, and less inflammation.
This is a huge help when being consistently active with exercise routines, daily activities, and hobbies - with near-infrared lowering the frequent flare-ups or interruptions.
As mobility and function is regained, dependence on oral pain medications decreases along with the risks of side effects. For many, near-infrared light therapy supports successful long-term management of plantar fasciitis without complications.
In some cases, near-infrared light therapy speeds up recovery from plantar fasciitis compared to rest alone. The light energy triggers beneficial cellular changes that accelerate the body’s natural healing mechanisms.
Patients show enhanced tissue regeneration, collagen remodeling, angiogenesis, and nerve healing. Ultrasound studies reveal near-infrared light also helps realign plantar fascia fibers and reduce thickening more quickly. As healing progresses faster, lasting pain relief occurs earlier.
Near-infrared devices are far more cost effective than most medical treatments for stubborn plantar fasciitis, like shockwave therapy or surgery.
The devices often pay for themselves within a few months when factoring in savings from physical therapy co-pays, custom orthotics, anti-inflammatory medications, missed work/activities, and more.
After the initial device purchase, the treatments are extremely affordable, convenient, and safe. near-infrared light therapy provides an accessible treatment option compared to pricier in-clinic alternatives.
Safety and Precautions
FDA Guidelines and Medical Device Classification
In the United States, near-infrared light therapy devices are classified as Class II medical devices by the FDA. This means they are subject to special regulatory controls to ensure safety and effectiveness.
The FDA provides guidance on appropriate labeling, testing, and compliance monitoring for these devices. For home use near-infrared units, the FDA requires electrical, thermal, mechanical, and optical safety testing as well as clinical performance data.
Following FDA guidelines provides assurance that marketed near-infrared devices meet high safety and quality standards.
Safety Measures and Guidelines
Near-infrared light therapy has an excellent safety profile with minimal risks when manufacturers’ instructions are followed properly. But remember that, certain safety measures should be implemented:
- Follow all device settings and treatment duration recommendations. Avoid exceeding the recommended dosage.
- Protect eyes from direct light exposure by wearing protective goggles.
- Check for skin damage or open wounds before applying near-infrared light to bare skin. Damaged skin is prone to burns.
- Discontinue use if you experience any pain, discomfort or concerning side effects.
- Consult your doctor before use if you have any medical conditions or are on photosensitive medications.
- Purchase near-infrared devices approved by regulatory bodies like the FDA to ensure safety.
- Compare and vet product claims thoroughly since this is an emerging therapy field.
Potential Side Effects
Very few side effects are associated with near-infrared light therapy when used appropriately.
Mild redness or warmth in the treatment area can sometimes occur but fades shortly after. Improperly delivered high doses may rarely cause skin burns, blistering or peeling. Some report temporary muscle spasms.
Photosensitive individuals and those on certain medications that increase light sensitivity may experience rashes or itching. Near-infrared light is otherwise considered very low risk compared to medications, surgery, and other medical treatments for plantar fasciitis. It does not cause long term skin damage or increase cancer risk.
Still, it is important to remain vigilant and stop treatments if any worrisome reactions develop.
Consulting your doctor helps identify any unique risks in your situation.
Overall, near-infrared therapy presents an excellent non-invasive option for relieving plantar fasciitis inflammation and pain.
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