Do you have heel pain when you first wake up in the morning? Is that first step just a killer? Plantar Fasciitis is a common running injury and is also common among people who spend a lot of time on their feet in shoes. Where it isn’t common is among habitual barefoot populations. In fact, it doesn’t exist among people that don’t wear shoes.
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of connective tissue originating on the bottom surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the toes. It has been reported that plantar fasciitis occurs in two-million Americans a year and in 10% of the U.S. population over a lifetime. It is commonly associated with long periods of weight bearing. Among non-athletic populations, it is associated with a high body mass index. The pain is usually felt on the underside of the heel and is often most intense with the first steps of the day. Another symptom is when the sufferer has difficulty bending the foot so that the toes are brought toward the shin (decreased dorsiflexion of the ankle). Knee pains, especially among runners, is a symptom commonly recognized among sufferers of plantar fasciitis. (Wikipedia)
In 18 years of working with people with plantar fasciitis, I’ve seen a good deal of what works and what doesn’t. There doesn’t seem to be any magic bullet. Sure, getting arch supports or wearing a night splint may provide some immediate relief, but they often don’t end up being a long-term solution. Despite what many believe, it CAN be cured long-term with a bit of commitment…
Plantar Fasciitis Treatment
- Step 1) Reduce Inflammation
- Apply ice to affected area (Rolling a frozen Dixie cup works well)
- Apply topical anti-inflammatory cream, preferably Myomed
- Use soft arch supports shoe inserts (When not strengthening) such as Profoot Triad, etc.
- Step 2) Break Up Scar Tissue/Stretch
- Give yourself a DEEP tissue massage for the entire foot and lower leg every third day
- Roll a Foot Rubz ball (preferable) or Golf/Tennis Ball regularly to the bottom of your foot
- Stretch your calves & feet (Lots of stretches on the internet)
- Step 3) Strengthen (Most Important Part)
- Start with 30-seconds of barefoot running/walking on soft/natural surfaces and add 30 seconds every few days (Probably the single most effective way to eradicate PF; subtract this time from your regular workout, i.e. 30 Minute Regular Workout = 29 minutes in shoes, 1 minute barefoot)
- Pull in a towel w/toes and repeat
- Stand on one foot (affected foot)
- 1) Waiting in line, standing at work, whenever, wherever
- 2) As an exercise: barefoot eyes closed on carpet
- Pick up marbles w/toes and spell alphabet (advanced exercise!)
- More exercise tips
The goal is to inversely fade out the need for support while slowly implementing foot strengthening. This makes the foot strong and independent.
Stay away from being barefoot on hard and flat surfaces until the feet are strong enough to handle it. In most cases, feet have been weakened by years of shoes and arch support. It will take some time to get them strong enough to reverse those effects.
In many people, devices like the Strassburg Sock drastically reduce the “first step in the morning” pain.
Continue strengthening/barefoot running once or twice a week
In my experience, the closest thing to a magic bullet for curing plantar fasciitis is strengthening your feet. In conjunction with reducing the inflammation and reducing built-up scar tissue, making the feet strong seems to be the long term solution to curing plantar fasciitis. It stands to reason that if habitually barefoot people don’t experience plantar fasciitis and people with shoes and arch supports do, there must be a reason behind that. That reason is likely that their feet are strong while ours are weak.
In theory, wearing corrective or “supportive” shoes and arch supports do for our feet what our feet should be doing for themselves. This ultimately ends up weakening our feet. As our feet become weaker, we need more and more support, and become dependent on it. This is why people may feel some relief when getting arch supports or orthotics, but a few months to a few years later, the pain comes back worse than ever. I rarely meet runners who love their orthotics, and even most that say they like them admit that they are dependent on them and wish they didn’t “have to” wear them. In essence, they don’t. Even dependence on arch support can be reduced by returning the feet to their natural state by building up strength.
To say that the average person “needs” support is to argue that we weren’t created right or that evolution didn’t work.
Returning our feet to a more natural state by reducing the inflammation that has built up, breaking up the scar tissue, and strengthening the feet will have very positive effects on arch, heel and body pain.
ALTRA footwear can help with plantar fasciitis because their innovative Zero Drop platform and foot-shaped design place the foot in a “barefoot” position. This helps elongate and stretch the entire plantar fascia-calf region while relaxing the foot and arch muscles.