Plantar fasciitis (PF) is one of the most common causes of foot pain in both runners and non-runners alike. If left untreated, it can become painful enough that it stops you in your tracks.
No runner wants that.
PF can start as a manageable tightness, ache or pain in the arch of the foot or heel, maybe just a hint that trouble is brewing. But when those first barefoot steps in the morning are accompanied by a sharp pain in or around the heel that makes you want to jump back in bed or limit walking altogether, you’ve likely developed some inflammation that will get in the way of your running.
Plantar fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot. Spreading from the base of your heel (or calcaneus) to the base of your toes, this band of fascia can lead to some intense pain at its attachment point along the heel if not addressed early on.
While most people associate the plantar fascia with this painful syndrome, this tissue actually serves an important purpose. As you walk or run (especially barefoot), the small bones of your feet move, helping you adapt to different contours of uneven terrain. Muscles, bones, ligaments and tendons work together to allow your feet to be both a moveable, adaptable connection to the world as well as a rigid lever when needed—sturdy enough to propel your whole body from one foot to the other.
The plantar fascia, while occasionally problematic, is usually a great support (literally), helping to stabilize the arch of your foot and provide shock absorption as you move. If your arch is repeatedly collapsing or there is weakness in your body leading to poor body mechanics with gait, this can stress the tissue where it attaches to the bone and lead to pain.
How to Manage Pain from Plantar Fasciitis:
1. Ice massage. Take an ice cube or freeze a paper cup full of water then peel the top part of the cup off. Place a towel under your foot as you apply the ice directly to the most painful spot and make circles for about 1-3 minutes.
2. Adjust your footwear. Old, flat, hard or unsupportive footwear can contribute to overloading the plantar fascia tissue. Consider buying a new pair of shoes or trying a pair with better arch support or heel cushioning. Avoid flat-soled, hard dress shoes until the pain subsides.
3. Foam roll and stretch. The plantar fascia is not working alone. It is a continuation of a much larger and broader band of fascia that begins as high as the hips. Often, tightness or tension begins in the hamstrings and travels down the calves before wrapping around the heel and continuing in the feet. Be sure you stretch the hamstrings, calves and big toe, as well as foam rolling the calves in particular to try and reduce tension in these muscles.
4. Roll a tennis or lacrosse ball under the foot. The truth is, the plantar fascia isn’t the only structure that needs some TLC. Place a tennis or lacrosse ball (or even a frozen water bottle) under the arch of your foot and roll your foot back and forth over it for about 1-2 minutes per day for some immediate relief.
5. Strengthen your system. While it may seem counterintuitive, plantar fasciitis or any inflammatory condition can usually be paired with weakness elsewhere. Eccentrically load and strengthen the calves while also working on dynamic single leg balance activities and hip strengthening to help support that single leg strength and stability you need for running.
These basic at-home therapies can help you manage occasional pain and get back to your running routine. Remember to always listen to your body, and see a doctor if pain worsens or persists.
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