Be kind to your aching heels – here are some tips to help release tension in the plantar fascia.
If you suffer from pain or severe tenderness on the bottoms of your heels, you’re in good company. The most common cause of this aching, a condition called plantar fasciitis, will nag about 1 in 10 people in their lifetimes. (Rude.)
Plantar fasciitis strikes when the arch-supporting band of connective tissue along the bottom of your foot (called the plantar fascia) is overstretched and inflamed. This is more likely to happen if you regularly walk, run, or do activities that stress your heels, but there are plenty of other factors that can cause it.
“Being overweight or obese, standing for prolonged periods of time, and lack of full ankle flexibility can also predispose a person to developing plantar fasciitis,” says Dr John D. Baldea, family doctor with a specialty in sports medicine. “People with flat feet or high arches or those who wear improper footwear can also develop plantar fasciitis easier.”
Once you see a doctor and determine that plantar fasciitis is to blame for your heel pain, you’ll probably be advised to start with a treatment combo like the one Baldea gives his patients in the short-term: rest, stretching and foot exercises, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like aspirin or ibuprofen). But there are some other products you can pick up online or at the pharmacy to aid in the healing process, and stretches to help relieve the pain.
Orthotics and Footwear
What shoe you wear on your feet when you’re not running makes a difference. Arch support is key, and walking around barefoot or in a flimsy shoe can delay recovery. Boost arch support with orthotics or more appropriate footwear, Baldea advises. “I usually recommend patients go to any pharmacy or general store and try the custom-fitted shoe inserts,” says Baldea. Recent studies show over-the-counter foot orthotics are as effective as custom-moulded ones, he adds.
Use a frozen water bottle or a golf ball to massage your foot if you can’t book a massage appointment. Spiky massage balls made from dense rubber – as opposed to plastic – are better: the spikes won’t bend as you press into it, meaning you’ll get a deep massage that will release tension in the plantar fascia.
As the name suggests, compression items are snug and form-fitting to your muscles. OS1st have developed compression socks specifically to provide proper support and prevent future bouts of plantar fasciitis. Their FS4 Plantar Fasciitis Compression Socks are designed with precise targeted compression levels for proper foot support and injury prevention. Make sure you select the right size at specialty running stores: ill-fitting socks can result in chafing and blisters.
Plantar Fasciitis Stretches
While it’s typical to experience pain in just one foot, massage and stretch both feet. Do it first thing in the morning, and three times during the day. This is true regardless of whether you’re a man or woman.
1. Achilles Tendon Stretch
Stand with your affected foot behind your healthy one. Point the toes of the back foot toward the heel of the front foot, and lean into a wall. Bend the front knee and keep the back knee straight, heel firmly planted on the floor. Hold for a count of 10.
2. Plantar Fascia Stretch
Sit down, and place the foot with heel pain across your knee. Using the hand on the side affected by plantar fasciitis, pull your toes back toward your shin until you feel a stretch in your arch. Run your thumb along your foot—you should feel tension. Hold for a count of 10.
For some runners who continue to experience symptoms even after treatment, a medical remedy in the form of surgery is sometimes necessary. Your doctor would need to consider several factors, including your overall health and medical history, before deciding to go the surgery route.