10 Ways I Overcame Plantar Fasciitis (And Returned to Running!)
If you stumbled across this page while researching what to do to cure your own plantar fasciitis, then I’m going to guess this is about the gazillionth article you will read on the topic. Thus, I’m not going to recommend the same old lean-against-the wall stretches that you have seen everywhere. (Your doctor may have even given you a pamphlet with some examples) I’m sure that they have helped with some, but not so much for me. Instead, I’m going to outline all the treatments that I have done to get me to where I am now – back running around 40 miles a week and slowly increasing.
I think it’s extremely important to note that not all cases of plantar fasciitis are alike and what works for one person, may not help with another person’s case. I’ve had plantar fasciitis twice, and they were completely different experiences – once that wasn’t a big deal and once that was a HUGE deal (and accompanied by a heel spur).
I first had plantar fasciitis in my right foot that popped up while training for the 2013 Marine Corps Marathon, but after the initial inflammation went away (about 4-5 days) I always described this injury as a “non-issue.” Sure – the foot was tight in the mornings, but it always was loosened-up by the time I headed out the door for a run. The thickness of the plantar fascia in this non-issue foot was around 7.0 – 8.0 mm, a clear sign of a symptomatic heel, and actually significantly thicker than the measurement of my heel that I was hobbling around on at the time! This article describes the treatments that I found to be helpful for my second, and much more painful and debilitating, case of plantar fasciitis. Note that I am only a runner (who has had quite a few injuries!) hoping to share what worked for me. So don’t do something stupid and blame me, let’s be clear – I have zero medical training.
One last disclosure until I get the good stuff, chronic cases of plantar fasciitis may never be completely cured. In other words, some will always have to work to keep these foot issues at bay and may perhaps from time-to-time have flare-ups. I write this because there are unfortunately some doctors who are either trying to sell you something or boost their egos, by telling you that they can “cure” your plantar fasciitis. Sure – it sounds great and the doctor’s confidence in his ability is comforting, but the doctor would be being fairer to you to say that plantar fasciitis can be an annoying and difficult to treat injury that some people may suffer from for years. It’s not what we want to hear, but it’s the truth. Now, before you go throw away all your running gear and rip that 26.2 sticker off that back of your car in frustration, there may be some things you can do to help ease the pain and get you back running. Here’s what worked for me.
#1 Rest is Usually Best: If you have a bad case of plantar fasciitis, the first thing you need to do is to get it under control and rest is usually best.
In the fall, I still had hopes of running a December marathon so instead of truly resting my injured heel, I tried prescription anti-inflammatories and a cortisone injection. I was hoping to find something to help patch me together until after the marathon but since I continued running and training, the plantar fasciitis only got worse. Drugs only gave me temporary relief from the pain – they didn’t help heal my heel.
Arguably the best thing for my plantar fasciitis was spending one month in a boot. Truly giving my heel rest allowed me to get my injury under control. For some people, spending 4-6 weeks in a boot may cure their plantar fasciitis all together. Wearing a boot may be a more aggressive treatment, but I think many runners (including myself) would rather take that 4-6 weeks completely off and return to running healthy rather than limp through a year of mediocre training and racing.
I also think that rest is absolutely best initially. I believe part of the reason why my first case of plantar fasciitis wasn’t so bad was that when I felt the first symptoms, I completely stopped running until I felt 100%. If you can nip plantar fasciitis in the bud, you will have the best prognosis. Believe me, spending even a week or two off when you first have symptoms is well worth it in the long run!
The only time I caution against too much rest is when muscle weakness is the root of the cause and when rest can lead to significant muscle loss. While rest initially may still be necessary, there are times that continuing to rest will not lead to a complete healing of an injury or can cause atrophy of muscles which makes the healing process even longer! For example, when I sprained my ankle (and then ran the entire 2013 Marine Corps Marathon), rest was absolutely necessary at first – I couldn’t even walk! But I never got completely over the injury until I started trying to stress the ankle a bit with some short, slow running and calf raises on the stairs. I will go as far as to argue that sometimes running is the best physical therapy. If you can run a little without pain, you will usually recover faster by trying to run. I think if we remind our bodies what it is we are trying to do, then our bodies will heal themselves in order to perform those functions. We just have to be careful to not over do it! (Easier said than done!)
#2 Hot Yoga: As mentioned above, I caution against extreme rest due to the potential for muscle atrophy. Thus, during the time that I was wearing a boot, I would take it off once or twice a week for a hot yoga class. The class helped me to retain some strength and function in my muscles. I also believe that the heat in the class helped loosen tight muscles around my foot and ankle and get blood flow to the injured area.
# 3 Graston Technique: Many people, including myself, have found relief from plantar fasciitis after having Graston done on the injured heel. Graston Technique uses special stainless steel instruments to scrape against the skin and effectively break up scar tissues below. It’s not pleasant, but there is no question that my heel feels looser after a treatment. I heard one runner say that she felt Graston only provided temporary relief from plantar fasciitis, but I’ve also had another runner tell me that Graston cured her after years of dealing with the nagging injury (and after trying everything else!). For me, I think that breaking up the scar tissue in my heel and getting some blood flow in there, only could have helped. If you are interested in giving it a try to see if it may help you, you can locate a provider here. And don’t worry, I am in no way sponsored by or receive any kind of benefit from the Graston folks.
# 4 Finding the Root of the Cause: If you’ve rested your foot as I suggested in #1 above, but only to have begun running again and have heel pain return, you are going to have to figure out what caused the plantar fasciitis in the first place. Either there is muscle weakness in your foot/lower leg or there is something in your running form/shoe that is creating the problem. Or both. Personally, I think there were several factors in my second case of plantar fasciitis such as doing physical therapy exercises barefoot (as prescribed by a physical therapist) and hard orthotics that further weakened my feet and lower legs while not absorbing any shock. And even though I was wearing orthotics, I still felt like my high arches lacked support in the running shoes I was wearing at the time. Which leads me to #5…
# 5 Changing Shoes: Experiment. I’m not writing this to say that you need to go minimalist or maximalist, but if you are continuing to have problems with heel pain, you need to choose your shoes wisely. Don’t assume that the pair you have always worn still work. For me, I tried and failed with a number of shoe/insert combinations. First, I pitched the orthotics I had been wearing (not literally – I spent $700 on them!) I tried the Feetures Plantar Fasciitis Sleeve (no help) and the maximalist shoe Hoka One One Conquests (surprisingly not that plush of a ride!), but I ultimately felt best wearing the minimalist Brooks PureConnects with the ProFoot Plantar Fasciitis Insoles on top of the shoe insert – that’s right…I left the inserts in there. For me, I have really high arches so I love the arch support in the Brooks PureConnects. And despite the Connects being minimalist shoes, they really have a ton of cushion! So, arch support from the ProFoot insoles on top of arch support and cushion in the PureConnects and an all-around good fitting, snug shoe was the right combination for me. (Again, I’m only providing links for reference! No benefit to me if you choose to purchase anything.)
# 6 Taping My Arch: I don’t tape my arch on every run, but I have been taping it up when I’m running long or doing speed work. Taping my arch is just extra support, and I find comfort in the additional insurance. I use cheap, basic athletic tape that you can get from the drug store. I start by loosely anchoring the end of the tape on the top of my foot, then I pull the tape tightly around my arch (from the outside of the foot to the inside) and then loosely tape the end on top of my foot (should be over the other end of the piece). Lastly, I repeat with a second piece of tape.
# 7 Avoiding Hills: Hills are a b*tch – and not just because they are taxing on my body when I run up them, but they also irritate my plantar fasciitis at the same time. I find it best to avoid hills until I no longer have foot problems.
# 8 Ice & Heat Therapy: I don’t have much new (you are probably an old pro) to write on the subject of ice & heat therapy other than the fact that I’ve found it helpful to ice my feet after every long run during marathon training. I believe it helps prevent a lot of foot injuries.
# 9 Not Too Old for Bath Time: Almost every night I soak in a hot bath. It’s a ritual. During this time, I massage the arch of my foot. Similar to the Graston Technique, I may scrap my fingernails across my heel to help break up scar tissue (if you think this is weird, wait until you read #10) but not aggressively every night. In the bath tub, I also work on ankle mobility and loosening the calf muscles with two techniques in particular. One, I will wrap both hands around my leg just above the ankle and pull towards my knee, making the skin and muscles tight. Then, I will rotate my ankle. I often hear popping noises in my ankle when I do this. The second technique I do is to find a tight spot in my calf muscle and apply pressure there with my thumbs, then I flex my ankle back and forth. After bath time, I use my stick and foam roller on my legs and also stretch my hip flexors.
#10 Puppy Kibble Pick-Up: Runners do weird things for the love of running, and I am no exception. In the past, I’ve done the typical exercises where you curl up your toes, perhaps bunching up a towel in the process. But my current, favorite exercise is what I call the Puppy Kibble Pick-Up. This pick-up game basically originated from a suggestion I once read to try picking up monopoly pieces with your toes. But since I have no children but one very sweet Golden Retriever (picture below), I’ve opted to use pieces of her dog food. I sprinkle a quarter of a cup or so of her dog food on the floor and then I proceed (quickly before my dog gets to it!) to pick up the dog food bits with my toes and drop them back in the cup. Sure – it’s weird, but my arch is definitely getting stronger. I do this about every other day because I’m careful to not over-do exercises. My goal is to do just enough work to get my arches stronger and not enough to break them down, causing them to weaken.
Plantar fasciitis can be a bit of a mystery injury – Sometimes we don’t know what caused it and usually, even if we don’t do anything about it, the injury will eventually heal itself. But I do believe that often we can speed along the process. Hopefully, some of the above tips that I feel helped me may provide some relief to others that are plagued by plantar fasciitis. If you have any other advice or feedback on the above, please feel free to leave a comment!