Running is a seemingly straightforward movement – one foot in front of the other, literally hundreds if not thousands of times, over and over and over – but for all its simplicity, it's also a somewhat complicated movement. There are many forces, actions, and reactions that take place every time we put our feet on the ground and propel ourselves forward. It's no wonder then, that many runners find themselves unfortunately beset with injuries year after year, and one of the more common running-related ailments is Plantar Fasciitis.
If you've never heard of or experienced Plantar Fasciitis, consider yourself lucky. Here's a quick medical definition, courtesy of WebMD:
“Plantar fasciitis is the most common cause of heel pain. The plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot. If you strain your plantar fascia, it gets weak, swollen, and irritated (inflamed). Then your heel or the bottom of your foot hurts when you stand or walk.”
In other words, Plantar fasciitis simply refers to inflammation of the fascia, the ligament on the bottom of your foot.
Plantar Fasciitis can be incredibly painful and very frustrating to deal with, especially since the pain is often at its worst first thing in the morning when you're getting out of bed. However, with some tools and patience you too can beat Plantar Fasciitis and get back to your running, walking, or hiking ways.
Below, I'll outline some tried-and-true tips for rehabbing Plantar Fasciitis.
Step 1: Reduce inflammation. Arguably the best way to immediately treat Plantar Fasciitis is to get the inflammation down as fast as possible. The best way to do that is to stay off your feet – read: stop running, walking, and hiking immediately. Don't overburden your already-strained feet with excessive amounts of exercise or time on your feet. Some people also find that they can successfully reduce inflammation through natural therapies such as soaking their feet in Epsom salt baths and by applying essential oils to their feet at night. As with any medical condition, you should definitely consider consulting a professional such as a sports medicine physician or a physical therapist. They may recommend that you sleep wearing a Plantar Fasciitis boot if your case is especially egregious. Listen to a professional!
Step 2: Rehab the fascia. Eventually, once you've decreased your foot's inflammation, you'll want to rehabilitate the fascia slowly but deliberately. It's important that you take things slowly here because you don't want to accidentally set your progress back by a few days or weeks because you became overzealous. Slowly begin to rehab your fascia by kneading the bottom of your foot and strengthening your foot muscles. An easy way to knead the bottom of your foot (especially if you can't get someone to massage your feet for you!) is to roll it back and forth on a can of vegetables, frozen can of orange juice, or something similar. In addition, a sports medicine physician or a PT can give you specific at-home exercises to strengthen your foot muscles. As you slowly resume strength and minimize your pain, consider walking short distances barefoot on grass or other softer natural surface to massage the bottom of your feet and strengthen your foot muscles. During the rehab phase you can continue using Epsom salt baths for your feet and should consistently wear your Plantar Fasciitis boot (if prescribed) until you are no longer experiencing pain.
Step 3: Prevent Plantar Fasciitis by strengthening your feet. Hopefully, if you do end up having Plantar Fasciitis, it will be a one-time thing that won't rear its ugly head again in the future. One of the best ways to prevent Plantar Fasciitis resurfacing is to ensure that you do everything you can to strengthen all of the muscles in your feet. Many people swear by using minimalist-type shoes to aid with this as they help your foot to more easily and naturally “feel” the earth beneath you. This allows your feet to articulate accordingly - something that can be hard to do if you're constantly wearing bulky, thick-soled shoes. As you become more accustomed to wearing minimalist footwear, you might want to consider wearing these types of shoes for most, if not all of your runs as well; you may find that constantly allowing your feet to articulate with the ground, especially when you're running, will help keep you in check – preventing you from running too fast all the time – while also diversifying the forces your feet experience every time they make contact with the ground.
Plantar fasciitis can be a real pain, but hopefully with the tips I've suggested above, you'll be back on the trail in no time – and with stronger feet to boot.