The Ten Step Plan to escape the pain of Plantar Fasciitis

There have been times over the last few years when I thought my running days were over. I’ve been so crippled by the pain of plantar fasciitis that I’ve had to use hiking poles to get into work and at it’s worst I’ve resorted to moving around the house on my hands and knees.

Plantar fasciitis is the curse of runners.

Most runners will be struck down by a running injury at some time in their life but few are as debilitating as plantar fasciitis. As a breed we have a tendency to push ourselves hard and increase volumes and intensity too far and too soon and usually combine the two for good measure. Overloading your body, running with inappropriate footwear and ignoring other aspects of your fitness such as core strength training and flexibility will unfortunately increase your chances of being struck by plantar fasciitis. Overweight runners are also more prone to overuse injuries such as plantar fasciitis.

So how do you know if your foot problem is caused by plantar fasciitis?

Plantar FasciitisTypically the pain is felt on the sole of your feet, around the fleshy part of your heel pad. I had it in both of my feet but more often it is restricted to one side. I described the pain as though I had a large pebble in both shoes, causing a pressure pain and a bruised sensation.

It was also associated with stiffness which was much worse after resting, so after waking in the morning I would find myself hobbling for the first few steps as my feet accustomed themselves to movement. It felt like I was walking on stumps rather than fully mobile and flexible feet. For a while I was able to run through the pain and suffer the consequences after I stopped but when I started increasing the intensity again, the walking sticks had to make a re-appearance and the enforced rest periods started again.

How to recover from plantar fasciitis.

I’ve been dealing with the injury for well over a two years and have worked my way through most of the advice available, some of which provided only limited success but I am pleased to announce that I am now pain free and back running and training for my marathon.

Here’s my ten step plan for achieving pain free running:

  1. Stop running. This sounds drastic but should only be necessary for a few days to a week to enable you to get through the acute stage of your injury.
  2. Start a 2-week course of ibuprofen or other suitable anti-inflammatory, 1 tablet three times a day should be sufficient. I wouldn’t normally advise medication, I very rarely take tablets but I have to admit that this was one of the most successful elements of my recovery plan. The injury is caused by inflammation of the plantar fascia that runs underneath the foot and a short course of anti-inflammatory medication along with a period of rest can be extremely effective in helping the foot recover.
  3. Ice your feet 2- 3 times daily. I did this by filling a small bottle with water and freezing it, you can then roll your feet over this to combine icing with a strong plantar fascia stretch. You may find it more convenient to soak your feet in a bucket of icy water.
  4. calf stretchBuild a stretching routine into your day. It is very likely that tight calves are part of the problem and if you have lower back pain as well you’ll probably find that your hamstrings are knotted up too. I stretch my calves while going up the escalators at the tube station, keeping the balls of my feet on the edge of the rise and dropping my heels. You can also do the standard runners stretch which involves you pushing against a tree or wall while applying gentle tension to the outstretched rear leg.
  5. Foot and calf strengthening – grasping golf balls with your toes is a great exercise for working out your feet and step raises are brilliant for strengthening the calves.
  6. The Stick and other methods of tortureMassage – foot and calf – I use The Stick which is a marvellous gadget for rolling out knots and tension but a foam roller would probably have a similar effect. I aim to do this before and after a run and find that the pre-run roll is most effective at ensuring that my calves don’t tighten up.
  7. Build core training and flexibility into your program – stretch daily and add in a core workout 3 times a week. A simple yoga routine such as the sun salutation repeated a few times will take less than 10 minutes a day and core routine needn’t necessarily take longer than 20 mins. I use an iPhone app for both routines but there are plenty of ideas on the web.
  8. Cross train. There is no need to cut out the aerobic exercise while you are on your enforced running rest, and in fact it is always good injury-proofing advice to maintain an element of cross training in your program. Try pool running if you really miss the running or cycling and swimming as great fitness alternatives.
  9. Experiment with insoles and consider replacing your shoes if they are worn. Running shoes have a shelf life depending on the distance run and the weight of the runner. If you have foot pain and your shoes have taken a battering it might be time to invest in a new pair. Insoles are worth considering if only as a temporary measure but you might need to seek professionally podiatry advice for this.
  10. Try the Paleo diet to relieve the pain of plantar fasciitis – I saved this one for last as it sounds a bit nuts. I started the Paleo diet a while ago for health and weightloss reasons and had absolutely no expectation that it would help my plantar fasciitis but by the end of the first week of sticking to the diet my foot pain had gone. I was surprised and didn’t actually draw the connection until I started researching the paleo diet and read in Loren Cordain’s Paleo Diet book, a case study which indicated that another dieter had found relief from plantar fasciitis after starting the paleo diet. The mode of action is likely to be anti-inflammatory and maybe more appealing to many than the ibuprofen option.

Other methods of treatment for plantar fasciitis:

  • Born to RunBarefoot running. Barefoot running has gained huge levels of support and is often cited as a potential cure for plantar fasciitis following the success of the amazing book “Born to Run”. I’ve done quite a bit of barefoot running or minimalist running using shoes such as Vibram fivefingers and the Softstar run amocs but I cannot wholeheartedly recommend that you throw away the cushioned support shoes you are used to. I’d love to be able to do that but my fear is that, if you are anything like me, you will go too fast and too far down the barefoot running route and increase your risk of running injuries. Barefoot running is not for the fainthearted. You need to strengthen your feet and calves and take the transition extremely slowly – so proceed with caution.
  • A Strasbourg sock can be an effective plantar fasciitis night splint, worn while you sleep. It forces your foot into a 90-degree angle in order to stretch out the plantar fascia and can provide some relief.

I hope this program helps you in the way it helped me. When you start running again start back slowly and maintain the stretching and strength elements built into your recovery plan, the aim is to remain strong and flexible and to build the running levels slowly.

It’s always tempting, following a little bit of success, to throw yourself back into the running with a rather heroic attitude, but you should resist. If you’ve had plantar fasciitis already then you are going to be prone to relapses and that is just not worth it. Progress slowly, keep stretching and roll out the muscles of your legs before and after each run – if you don’t have a handy masseuse on hand, try the DIY option and invest in The Stick.

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11 comments

  1. I switched to a modified Paleo diet to see if it would help with my nagging Plantar Fasciitis in both feet from years of marathon training. Honestly, I didn’t think it would help. Two weeks into it, I noticed big drop in pain. Three months in my Plantar Fasciitis is completely gone. First time in three years. I think removing sugar and wheat, (gluten) was the big kicker. I do miss bread though!

  2. Hi Craig. I’m glad it had the same effect on you. I’m not 100% true to paleo but I do try to stick to the principles more often than not. I’m really happy to say that I have not relapsed with plantar fasciitis since the pain cleared after week 1 of starting the diet. That is well over two years now and I run and walk as much as I like. It has been a huge relief.

  3. I too have suffered from plantar fascitis for many years and often times it was so incredibly painful I could barely walk! I met my boyfriend a year and he is on a modified paleo diet and I decided to do this with him. After reading this article it makes sense as to why I haven’t been suffering from pf anymore!!!! I have cut out majority of dairy and I have very limited gluten and sugar!
    I would have never put two and twe together but I am happy that I have made healthier choices and it had helped my feet 🙂

  4. I am not sure about paleo, but ice, stretching and recovery pills worked well for me. Great post, thank you for sharing!

  5. I’ve been suffering from plantar fasciitis from almost 1 year. Went for physiotherapy and all but nothing worked. Is it ok if I can take only one pain killer per day. Can you explain me what is Palio diet? Will my plantar fasciitis goes away? Am depressed. I always think of methods to come out of pain. But nothing is working. Please suggest some more tips

  6. Really?!! Hogwash!!!!! Nothing helps me! My pain level is so high it is off the chart! Pain killers do nothing. WORK OUT!!! I am an electrician, I CLIMB UP AND DOWN LADDERS AND ACTIVELY FIT PIPE & PULL WIRE ALL DAY AS IT IS! I walk around ten miles a day…stoop, squat, crawl, climb, get the picture? Your golf ball, base ball, ice water bottle rolling…you never had it–I have tried these idiotic recommendations religiously and they are bologna! If you actually suffered from this problem, you wouldn’t be putting this bullshit out. I have it, and my quack Dr. reads this bullshit and thinks this is the only option I have, along with molded orthotics which only caused me to have increased agonizing pain, after he dug around in my foot sadistically with his cortisone injection needle. I can’t walk. I am on my feet 10 hrs a day trying to have a life with this debilitating condition! Come on, the Emporer has no clothes…these treatments are neither realistic, helpful or proven. I exercise– wtf, you nuts, I am wiped out at the end of a day! I have tried your stupid workouts they don’t work. I even spent $200.00 on a pair of shoes that I walked in 10 min stepped in dog doo and I don’t own a dog (lol!). Granted that has nothing to do with you, but you need to know from an actual sufferer of this condition that these wives tales and yarns being spun to help heel spur and plantar fasciitis are legends and myths!!!! The only thing that would actually address this situation is surgical. Nice to know I have “remarkable” heel spurs, but they have no bearing on my fascial pain, even though when I look at the xrays, common sense tells me that is the cause of my pain, uh, I am continually walking on what looks like a crab-like claw on the bottom of my foot…hmmm….why would that HURT? You are NUTS! Barefoot running… are you on crack? Gluten free diet… this is an actual cure? Or false hope?!!!

  7. I do know that the pain of plantar fasciitis can make you as grumpy as hell. I went to see my GP as I wanted surgery pronto as I had a London marathon place and no real chance of being able to maintain a training plan. She sent me away to take ibuprofen and I was furious.

    I did start to take the ibuprofen 3 times a day but having no faith I also started the paleo diet (gluten free, low inflammatory).

    It’s a long time ago now but I think I was pain free within the fortnight.

    My partner is convinced it was the ibuprofen while I am convinced it was the low inflammatory diet. But we will never know for sure. I put it out there for people who are prepared to do their own experiments.

    I note from your comment that you are constantly on the go, working on your feet, I on the other hand have a sedentary job and the only trigger was an occasional run. I was able to drop the running while I dabbled with other potentially crackpot ideas, you presumably will not have that luxury.

  8. I am 55 years and have endured 18 years of pain, spend $1000s on good shoes, doctors and orthotics. That was until I started a Paleo diet 7mths ago and now live pain free, i can wear any shoes I like, go barefoot and even run again. Paleo has changed my life in so many ways, it works, I have reduced the inflammation and feel 15 years younger.

  9. It certainly makes sense to me, that the Paleo diet would cure PF. We know that Carbs raise insulin and cause inflammation, and PF is inflammation. (Despite what some of the articles say, about it being “necrosis” (death of tissue) not inflammation, I know it’s inflammation by the simple fact it gets remarkably better when I take Ibuprofen. But I can’t take pills continuously.) The author may have cured herself by the Paleo diet, *in spite of* the stretches and other things, not because of them. I have had it for a year, have tried orthotics (terrible), night splints (also terrible), myofascial and trigger point massage (expensive), ice, heat, Crocs (best option to walk if you have to be on your feet), taping, lacrosse ball and foam rolling, stretching very bad), rest, exercise, fish oil, magnesium, I even rubbed lemon essential oil on it (yes, I read it online). Nothing completely resolved it. The fact the Docs and PTs can’t cure it obviously indicates there is some unknown component going on; and a systemic issue like diet and inflammation seems to fit the bill. I am here because I read Dr. William Davis’s book Wheat Belly, that talks about inflammation, and started to put two and two together, and Googled on wheat+plantar fasciitis. I will try it and re-post with my results.

  10. Thanks for your comment. Strangely when it came through i was walking in the park listening to a recent Bulletproof Exec podcast which featured Dr William Davis of Wheat Belly. He has a new book coming out which looks interesting – Undoctored.
    Anyway, I wish you well with your attempt to find a long lasting cure for PF. I am thankfully still free of the scourge.
    Come back and let us know how your dietary changes affect the problem.

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