You step out of bed and your foot hurts. You don’t remember injuring yourself and since it feels better the more you walk around, you assume it’s a fluke. The next morning there it is again. “Strange,” you think. “I’m sure it will go away,” but it persists. Gradually it hurts more. But still, it feels better when you move around on it so it can’t be bad, right? Wrong. You have plantar fasciitis (“plan-tur-fash-ee-eye-tis”), a common foot injury and a fairly easy one to fix if you act early. Which I guess is the first tip: do not wait to treat this injury. The longer you wait, the worse it gets and the longer it will take to heal. So what is this strangely named problem and just what should you do about it?
What is Plantar Fasciitis?
The plantar fascia is a thick band of connective tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot connecting your heel to the base of your toes. It acts like a shock absorber supporting the arch in your foot. If tension on the fascia is overloaded, tiny tears are produced resulting in irritation, inflammation and pain. The pain might feel like a stabbing sensation in the heel or arch of the foot, or it might feel more like deep aching or throbbing.
Most people feel this pain when getting out of bed in the morning. The pain generally subsides as the foot gets warmed up and moving. This is because the fascia is contracted at night almost as if it tries to heal itself. When you step on it getting out of bed, a sudden strain occurs all over again.
Reasons and Risks
Many things can contribute to the onset of plantar fasciitis including a sudden and big increase in running mileage, working out, walking or standing on hard surfaces, poor foot structure (too flat or too arched), worn out or improperly fitting shoes, or even going barefoot and wearing flip-flops But other things also contribute to this annoying problem including:
Plantar fasciitis can occur at any age, but is most common between 40-60.
Running, dance aerobics, ballet, or any exercise that put more pressure on the heel will contribute to the strain.
Lack of stretching
Chronically tight hamstrings, calves, low back, or Achilles tendons will pull the fascia tighter making for more tears.
Overpronation, or having your foot roll in, is the most common mechanical contributor but any type of odd gait or stride may also play a role.
Obesity or being overweight
The heavier you are, the more stress put on your plantar fascia.
Related: 5 Best Exercises To Beat Back Pain
Plantar Fasciitis Treatments
Whatever the cause, one thing is for sure: you want this thing fixed! It’s annoying and persistent. The good news is that, when treated early, most people resolve their pain with conservative treatments within six weeks. The complicated part is that no one treatment works for every person. Sometimes you have to try a few to figure out what works for you. However, there are tried and true things that need to be utilized whether trying to solve plantar fasciitis or better yet – trying to avoid it! Here they are:
Stretch, stretch, stretch: Your lower legs, calves, ankles and feet need to be stretched daily if not several times a day. Stand at a doorframe holding the edges, place your heel on the floor close to the frame and the ball of your foot up against the frame. Pulling gently with your hands, slightly bend your knee and press your foot into the doorframe while leaning forward. Hold for 30 seconds and repeat. Another great stretch is to sit down with your legs stretched out in front of you and a towel wrapped around your foot. Gently pull back on the towel and hold for 30 seconds. Repeat. Remember to stretch both feet, even if one is not injured. Prevention is easier than resolution!
Ice: Just like with other injuries, the inflammation of plantar fasciitis can be helped with ice. The best way to do this is to use a frozen water bottle and roll it back and forth under your foot for about 10 minutes, several times a day. Do it at meals, under your desk while you work or even at night when you watch TV. Be consistent.
Massage: No, you don’t have to pay for it. While you are sitting, roll a tennis ball around under your foot to massage the area. It work like a foam roller for your foot. Of course, the frozen water bottle also serves this purpose.
Medication: Over the counter anti-inflammatories can help. Ibuprofen or Naproxin are good bets.
Rest up: Your feet need time off from whatever is causing the issue. Stop or cut way back on whatever the offending exercise is. Read on because below is a list of alternative exercises that might just do the trick until you feel better.
Get new shoes: What a great prescription, huh? Most people wear their workout shoes for far too long before replacing. Remember that the plantar fascia muscle, which runs along the bottom of your foot, helps support the arch of your foot. So it makes sense that if you do not wear shoes with proper support you are putting extra wear and tear on that fascia. This leads to the muscle being strained and small tears can be created.
Shoe Inserts For Plantar Fasciitis
Cheap or improper shoes can be one of the causes of plantar fasciitis, but before you go buying brand new shoes, you may also consider shoe inserts. Inserts last longer and can be moved from shoe to shoe as needed. At one time you had to spend hundreds of dollars at a foot doctor or physical therapist in order to get good, quality custom-made orthotics. Now there are literally hundreds of options for inserts online or at any number of footwear stores with a very wide price range. Just keep in mind that price can often—though not completely—reflect quality. Try to choose based on other reasons.
So how do you filter through all the choices and select the right pair for you? Here are some tips!
How To Find The Right Shoe Inserts For You
- Look for insoles that have been well-tested and recommended by other users. If you don’t know someone personally, read the reviews online. However, don’t use the recommendation of the company itself.
- Take time to know your own feet before you buy. Neutral? Pronator? Supinator? Get a diagnosis from a medical professional or a specialized running store that uses a treadmill to watch you and help you understand your gait. Once you know, make sure to choose inserts that are specific to YOUR feet.
- Look for inserts with deep heel cups. Generally those who experience plantar fasciitis need more support in the arches of the feet. A deeper heel cup will provide this. Do you have flat feet? Low Arches? Moderate arches? If you aren’t sure, Runner’s World provides you with the Wet Feet Test that you can do at home to determine the amount of arch support you will need.
- Give the inserts time to break in before a race or longer run. Just like a new pair of shoes, the inserts will change the foot movement and your feet will need time to adjust. Do it in small doses.
With so many options out there, let us help you get started. We have a few to recommend and, if they don’t meet your needs, most of them will have other great options linked on the same page. Here are our favorite picks! Click on the Amazon link below to be taken to the product.
Superfeet Black Premium Insoles
|Custom designed for low-medium arch foot types they are considered one of the best on the market for flat feel. Other Superfeet Insoles fit different foot shapes. The Superfeet Blue, for more of a medium arch, is one of the best sellers out there.|
Powerstep Protech Orthotic Supports
|Plantar Fasciitis sufferers have chosen these for a long time reporting great results. These have a deep heel cup, dual layers for better shock absorption, and anti-microbial protection for freshness.|
Powerstep Unisex Pinnacle Maxx Insole
|If you are a severe pronator this is a great choice for you. The Powerstep has a slightly angled exterior heel platform to provide motion control. These are also anti-microbial.|
Syono Orthotic Shoe Gel Insoles
|Like shock absorbers for your car, these babies have a cushy gel material for gentle relief. One thing to consider: these come oversized for you to trim to fit your size rather than coming in a specific size set to your foot. This turns some people off.|
Airplus Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic
|Here is another choice with gel insert cushions. These also have the deep heel cup we recommend. Those who reviewed the Syono often noted they provide more stability than other more notable name brands they have tried.|
Remember, these are a small handful from a giant bucket of options. Take a look around and get something that will give you happy feet!
Can I Work Out with Plantar Fasciitis?
The answer is yes! But you may have to adjust your workouts until the problem is resolved. And even then, make sure to resume your regular activities slowly. The key to staying fit while trying to resolve plantar fasciitis is to participate in things that will not contribute to heel strike or pounding of your feet.
Workouts To Try:
- Water Aerobics
- Elliptical machine
- Weight Lifting
- Cycling with Hard Surface Shoes
- Rowing Machine
- Mat Pilates
Workouts To Avoid:
- Step Aerobics
- Walking for fitness
- Going barefoot or wearing flip-flops (use shoes even in your home!)
Physical therapy, night splints, custom orthotics and even surgery can play a role in solving plantar fasciitis if the more conservative treatments are not helping you. For me personally, I had plantar fasciitis about 14 years ago after training for a marathon. What ended up helping me the most was sleeping in a boot, keeping my arch taped with first aid tape and wearing inserts in my running shoes. Be sure to see your doctor if the pain persists for more than three to four weeks with the conservative treatments.
Best of luck and remember that slowing down now will help you continue to move for many years to come!