How You Can Cure Plantar Fasciitis
Plantar fasciitis continues to be one of the more frustrating running injuries. The hobbling effect it can have, not only during running but also during the first few steps out of bed in the morning, is well known by runners. It’s also known for healing very slowly and often re-occurring throughout a running career.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the connective tissue which runs along the bottom of the foot. It’s considered an overuse injury caused by continual overstretching of the plantar fascia. Although the exact mechanism of the injury is still debated, it is predominantly seen in runners (1) with high arches, (2) who overpronate and/or (3) who exhibit muscular imbalances of the lower leg (tight calves and/or weak shin muscles).
Because the fascia has a poor blood supply, it often becomes a slow-healing, chronic condition. In chronic cases, the injury can progress to a bone spur where the fascia attaches to the heel. While it is not the bone spur that causes the pain (a common misconception), the irritation of the fascial tissue by the spur can be quite painful.
Stopping the Pain of Plantar Fasciitis
The best method for relieving the symptoms of plantar fasciitis is ice massage (see tip on ice massage below). It only takes five minutes but will do wonders for the pain. It’s also important to continue icing past the point at which you have no more as it will promote complete healing of the tissue.
Another method for relief involves arch supports. Arch supports (or orthotics) take stress off of the arch to relieve the pain. Studies have shown that over the counter arch supports often work as well as or better than custom orthotics. This is not to suggest that you should throw away or avoid custom orthotics, but it certainly wouldn’t hurt to test an over-the-counter version before investing hundreds of dollars.
To decrease the often excruciating pain in the morning, heat the foot in a tub of hot water for 10 minutes and then roll the foot over a golf ball to massage the tissue. This will help stimulate blood flow and loosen the connective tissue, which tightens up when you sleep. Wearing Birkenstock-type sandals also relieves symptoms and provides support.
Treating the Running Injury
Just as important as overcoming the symptoms, the injury must be properly treated. Massaging the arch with gentle strokes from the ball of the foot to the heel can help loosen the tissue. Spend some time before and after you run gently massaging your arch.
If you have access to a health professional, ultrasound therapy helps promote blood flow to the affected area and speeds the healing process. The sound waves stimulate the underlying fascia to help break up scar tissue as a result of the injury.
A more recent treatment which we have found very useful is the use of a “night splint” to keep the foot stretched out while sleeping. Similar to a ski boot but lighter, it helps minimize the morning stiffness, allowing you to walk more normally when you wake by lengthening the calves and arch while you sleep. We have also found that it speeds the healing process and helps athletes return to running more quickly without pain. Good running doctors should have these “boots” available. If they don’t, look elsewhere for help.
Icing Guidelines to Treat Your Running Injury
- Use an ice cup – Fill a paper cup with water and then place it in the freezer. When completely frozen, the top of the paper cup can be peeled away to expose the ice.
- Massage the injured area with the ice cup for approximately 10 minutes or until the area is numb. It does little good to continue icing the area after that time. Repeat this process, icing the injury site two hours later at a minimum (or more frequently as possible).
- If you are unable to create a frozen ice cup, use an ice pack or a package of frozen vegetables (tiny peas work great) to treat the injured area.