How to Identify Plantar Fasciitis

How to Identify Plantar Fasciitis

When it comes to pain, it’s always best to consult a doctor to identify what’s actually wrong. That being said, if you’re feeling foot pain and are wondering what it could be prior to visiting a doctor, take a look at this article where we will differentiate plantar fasciitis from common foot injuries.

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

The plantar fascia is the thick, wide band of tissue that connects the heel to the toe.  Plantar fasciitis, or inflammation of the plantar fascia, is the most common cause of foot pain.  It is typically experienced as pain in the heel that is at its worst with the first step in the morning.  Most common among women in their 40-60s, the pain can be aggravated by any walking, standing, or other pressure on the foot. 

Plantar fasciitis test

The Windlass Test is commonly conducted by doctors to evaluate and treat plantar fasciitis.  Although this test is best performed by a doctor, you can also try the Windlass Test at home.

The Windlass Test is broken down into two positions: weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing. 

How to perform the Non-Weight-Bearing Windlass Test

windlass test plantar fasciitis

To begin, sit on a chair or couch and find a leg rest or second chair to prop up your feet.  Next, take your hand and bend your big toe back toward your shin. This movement will flex the plantar fascia across the bottom of your foot. You’ll notice that the muscles will tighten. With your other hand, take your thumb and apply pressure to the arch of your foot and heel while maintaining the stretch on your big toe.

If you can replicate your regular foot pain (e.g., pain in the heel), you likely have plantar fasciitis. 

How to perform the Weight-Bearing Windlass Test 

To begin, stand up.  Either get another person to perform the same steps as the non weight-bearing Windlass Test (bending your big toe back and simultaneously applying pressure with the thumb to the arch of your foot) or bend over and do this yourself. If you can replicate your regular foot pain (e.g., pain in the heel), you likely have plantar fasciitis. 

Next, we’ll go over other common foot injuries so you have a better idea of whether it’s plantar fasciitis or something else.

windlass test standing

Plantar Fasciitis vs. a Heel Spur

Heel spurs are the most common ailment confused with plantar fasciitis. Though the cause of initial heel pain is more likely to be plantar fasciitis, heel spurs can form after a serious case of plantar fasciitis. 

Heel spurs are calcium deposits on the underside of the heel bone.  It typically takes months to form a heel spur and can be caused by a number of foot injuries, including long-standing, untreated plantar fasciitis.  Heel spurs often cause no pain and go unnoticed, but can occasionally create localized inflammation (usually when there is some activity involving the foot) and associated pain.  

Because they take some time to form, heel spurs are not nearly as common as plantar fasciitis.  Overall if you’re experiencing heel pain it’s much more likely that you have plantar fasciitis.

heel spur

Plantar Fasciitis vs. Achilles Tendonitis

The best way to differentiate plantar fasciitis from achilles tendonitis is the location of the pain. 

It’s sometimes hard to identify at home because all of these joints, tendons and bones are in such close proximity to each other. However, if you’re experiencing pain from plantar fasciitis, it is typically felt on the bottom of your heel. Achilles tendonitis pain will be on the achilles tendon and usually radiate upward into the calf.

achilles tendonitis

Plantar Fasciitis vs Stress Fracture 

Both of these conditions are more likely to happen in old age. The difference is in which part of the foot is involved.  A stress fracture means the bone in your heel is cracked.  Plantar fasciitis is muscular.  Stress fractures will not go away as easily, and will require an x-ray to diagnose. 

If you have a history of osteoporosis, it is more likely that you have a stress fracture.

stress fracture in the heel

Plantar Fasciitis vs Bruised Heel

The best way to differentiate a bruised heel from plantar fasciitis is to note when you’re feeling the pain. In the case of plantar fasciitis, it is normal to not feel any pain during a workout and experience it afterward. On the other hand, with a bruised heel you will likely feel more pain during exercise since there is weight on the heel. Also, check for a purple color or discoloration on the heel as this could signify a bruise. Lastly, a bruised heel is usually caused by a specific incident of high impact.

bruised heel

Plantar Fasciitis vs Gout

Pain from gout is usually more in your toes, but it is possible for it to be in your heel which could be confused with plantar fasciitis. However, gout has more outward swelling and redness than plantar fasciitis. Your doctor can also run a blood test to measure your levels of uric acid. Having a high level indicates that the pain in your heel is likely gout related.

gout in the foot


Although we have given you information on a test you can give yourself and differentiated plantar fasciitis broadly from other foot ailments, no information in the article should be considered a diagnosis. Always get a doctor’s opinion if you’re experiencing any foot pain.

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