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?
Typically 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Build 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.
- 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.
- Massage – 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Barefoot 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.