I distinctly remember when it happened.
Following the 2007 Portland Marathon I took off my shoes, stepped on the ground and felt an unusual stretch in my arch. It wasn’t crippling or painful at the time but it would turn out to be one of the most horrible injuries I have faced in my running career.
“Plantar fasciitis”, the podiatrist said after reviewing the ultrasound of my feet. “It’s when the connective tissue (plantar fascia) that supports the arch becomes inflamed due to micro-tears in the sheath surrounding the fascia.” While I wasn’t sure what all that meant, I did know that my feet hurt all the time – especially after waking up in the morning and after any sort of activity on my feet.
At its worst, I could not stand in the shower for longer than two minutes because of the pain. The aches would subside throughout the day but it was painful to run or walk. The more I tried to stay active (on my feet), the more aggravated it got – causing the pain to endure for days on end.
Trial & Error
Over the course of the next two years, I would try every gimmick, insole and fly-by-night product that mentioned the word plantar fasciitis. Everything from physical therapy, cortisone shots and custom orthotics – nothing worked. I tried everything my insurance would cover and then some.
Believe me when I tell you there is no quick fix for this condition. Any doctor and podiatrist will tell you as well, there is no silver bullet. For me, it was a specific combination of products, activities and a nightly routine that, over the course of another year, would finally heal my feet.
Plain and simple, you have to commit to resting and doing things that reduce the inflammation to ultimately allow the fascia to heal. At the end of every day, my routine consisted of the following:
- Stretching the legs as much as possible. Hamstrings, calves/Achilles, quadriceps and IT band.
- Icing both feet for at least 15 minutes, twice a day (any reusable cold pack will work).
- Next, massage the fascia (arch) with BioFreeze, TigerBalm, etc. Focus on extending the arch and massaging where the most acute pain is and back and forth over the length of the fascia (see image at right)
- Apply a TENs unit to the foot for at least 15-30 minutes. The electrical stimulation (supposedly) stimulates the local nerves and helps redirect blood to the damaged area of the foot.
- At night, wearing a splint similar to the Strassberg Sock keeps the toes extended allowing the fascia to heal in a stretched position. (I tried five different brands/styles and none were as comfortable or effective as the Strassberg Sock)
While these represented the nightly routine, other things like professional massage and chiropractic care were all integral to not just healing the condition but allowing me to reintroduce low-to-moderate activities while keeping the condition from flaring up.
What Did Not Work
Be wary of any product that claims to cure this condition. You may be tempted to buy those plantar fascia sandals you see in that next in-flight magazine, but I can assure you…they’re just sandals. Here is a list of things I tried that had little to no value during my rehabilitation:
- Custom orthotics
- Cortisone injections (3 times – and yes, they hurt like hell!)
- Dynasplint boot
- Anti-inflammatory drugs
- Physical therapy
- Rolling my arch on frozen golf balls
- Plantar fascia sandals
- Arch supports
To this day, I still use icing, massage and chiropractic (more on this in a future article) as the foundation of keeping my feet pain-free and healthy as my running endeavors have gotten longer and more physically demanding.
Remember, what didn’t work for me may in fact work for you. Everyone rehabilitates differently so don’t discount any of these as options until you’ve tried them. The severity of your injury may dictate more or less medical care, stretching, icing or all the above. Of course, I’m not a doctor so make sure to consult one before starting any sort of treatment.
I’m quite convinced however that if you commit to the healing process (i.e., limiting activity, icing, and resting), you too will be able to relieve yourself of this horrible injury (and prevent it) to ensure you enjoy pain-free running for a very long time!