Plantar fasciitis is one of the most common – and most persistent – causes of foot and heel pain in athletes. Treatment can relieve the pain, of course, but the risk of re-injury is fairly high. Once plantar fasciitis develops, it becomes much more difficult to return to your usual activities completely pain-free.
Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the fascia – the thick band of connective tissue linking your heel to the front of your foot. Over time, excessive pounding and stress on the foot can cause tiny tears in the fascia.
Each night, while resting, the fascia heals itself and constricts slightly. The next morning, walking on the tender fascia rips those microtears open again, causing the stiffness and stabbing pain characteristic of plantar fasciitis. As Angels’ slugger Albert Pujols and NFL great Payton Manning can tell you, it’s a vicious and debilitating cycle.
Can we let you in on a “secret?” “In most cases, plantar fasciitis can actually be avoided!”
So say our experts at the University Foot and Ankle Institute, where we treat hundreds of cases of plantar fasciitis each year, from the biggest names in sports to the humblest weekend warriors. Follow these tips to train against the pain!
1. Wear Appropriate Footwear.
Choose footwear with stiff soles and a supportive arch.
“A lot of people underestimate the importance of their footwear choices,” says Dr. Bob Baravarian. “Little-by-little, the fascia tears when the downward pressure of your bodyweight flattens the arch to excess. Shoes that support the arch or shoes with custom orthotics will re-distribute that weight, reducing the strain on the fascia. Also support in the shoe with insole or orthotic ”
If you’re not sure what type of shoes to wear, talk to your foot and ankle specialist. Your doctor can evaluate the shape of your foot and your gait, and make a recommendation based on your body and your exercise routine. Your doctor can also fit you with custom orthotics that fit the footwear you already own.
2. Stretch Often.
“You’ll want to stretch your ankles and calves both before your workout and before bed,” says University Foot and Ankle’s doctor of physical therapy Jason Tanaka, “especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet or in high heels.” He explained that one of the factors putting strain on the fascia is over-tightening in the calf, the Achilles tendon, and the toes.
Try these techniques to ease your lower leg and foot muscles.
- Toe stretch. Sit in a chair and grip your big toe with your hand and yank it back, pointing toward your knee. Hold for 15 seconds and repeat 3 times with both feet.
- Arch stretch. Still seated, lasso a resistance band under your arch and pull the band toward you. Hold for 20 seconds on each foot.
- Foot rolling. Use a lacrosse ball or a hard water bottle to massage the sole of your foot. While seated or standing, roll the object under your foot for a minute, then switch feet.
- Achilles stretch. Stand flat on the floor with one leg a step behind the other. Lunge forward by bending your front knee and keeping your back leg extended. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs.
3. Work Your Way Up.
A big mistake many people make is diving head-first into a new exercise routine. “Overexertion is probably the number one cause of plantar fasciitis injuries that I see,” says Dr. Tanler Volkmann. “If you intensify your workout too quickly, your body hasn’t had time to acclimate to the new stresses and strains you’re putting on it.”
He goes on: “If you want to train harder, I recommend stepping up your workout by only 10% each week and working your way up gradually.”
Dr. Volkmann also explained that the surface you run on can make a huge difference. “If you’re new to running, start with softer surfaces. In a perfect world, every runner would have access to a soft, rubbery running track. But the next best thing to start with would be grass, gravel, or dirt paths while you practice good form and build endurance.
Avoid asphalt, hardwood flooring, and cement sidewalks at first. These surfaces can shock your joints and tendons before they’ve become accustomed to the repetitive shock of running.”
4. Correct Structural Abnormalities.
Alright, this “tip” from Dr. Brayton Campbell is a little more intrusive than the others, but it just might be the ticket you need to live a pain-free active lifestyle.
“It’s just a fact that patients with abnormalities in their feet or legs – such as asymmetrical leg length, flat feet, or high arches – are more likely to develop plantar fasciitis than your average Joe or Jane.” If this is you, bring your feet to your foot and ankle specialist for a consultation. Your doctor can discuss with you some surgical options to cut down on your risk of developing plantar fasciitis.
If you have questions on plantar fasciitis or any other foot and ankle conditions, we encourage you to call us at (877) 989-9110 or visit us at www.footankleinstitute.com.
Our patients are our number one priority and we consider them, along with our own families and our dedicated staff, to be our greatest assets.
We are driven to get our patients back to their normal activities with the highest level of function, in the least amount of time, using the least invasive treatments possible. From start to finish, we are with you every step of the way.
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