Everything has been going great with my running program, so it was bound to happen that something would step in and throw a monkey wrench in things. Sure enough, I started getting some heel pain and after doing some research, I've determined that I likely have a mild bout of plantar fasciitis. I'm not one to often self-diagnose, but this one is pretty apparent based on the two things that make this an almost certainty:
- Pain in my heel
- The worst pain occurs in the morning when I step out of bed
I've done a lot of research, and long story short, the plantar fascia is kind of like a rubber band that runs along the bottom of your foot. When one gets affected, small, microscopic tears appear. This is likely caused by some combination of:
- Improper stretching of the Achille's tendon and other surrounding areas – Looking at my routine, I probably skimp and this could definitely be a cause
- Poor arch support – I seem to remember having to get specialized shoes for arch support as a kid, though neither my dad nor I can remember the specifics
- Worn out shoes – I recently replaced my shoes, but it's likely that my old shoes could have been a contributing factor
- Increase in running intensity and length – I have been increasing the lengths of my run and trying to improve my pace. The progress has been nice, but it's possible I went with a little too much steam.
Plantar Fasciitis: Good News & Bad News
The good news is that most cases of plantar fasciitis resolve over time and with treatment that I can do by myself. Some of the recommended methods to address the condition, which I've started include:
- Icing the affected area 2-3 times per day
- Stretching out the foot before getting of bed in the morning
- Stretching out the foot throughout the day
- Trying to sleep with my foot more bent. Most people bend their foot out while sleeping, which loosens the plantar fascia. When you start walking, you tighten it back up and this pulls on all the areas that have been healing overnight. By keeping the foot bent, you allow healing to take place in the tighter position.
- Wearing shoes even when in the house. Typically, I would go barefoot or in socks, but healing requires additional support.
So far the results have been noticeable in that I don't feel the sharp pain in the morning. I still do feel some pain which leads to the bad news.
The bad news is that the healing process takes time. The plantar fascia is more like a tendon, and not a muscle. Muscles heal quickly by increasing bloodflow to the area, whereas tendons and such have no direct bloodflow, and simply need time.
Short Term Plans
So far, I've shut my running down for about two weeks. As noted above, I have seen results but I know that it's important to allow things to get fully healed, otherwise I'd just reaggravate it as soon as I started it again.
One other thing that I may do is purchase inserts for my shoes, which would provide additional arch support.
In the meantime, I still plan on exercising, but I just have to do work that doesn't create impact to the area. I plan on doing more work on the stationary bikes and will also look at the elliptical, so long as my form is such that I'm not putting too much pressure on the area.
Lucky for me, I caught it before it got really bad, but I knew that I had to address the issue, as I could tell by getting out of bed in the morning that the pain was getting progressively worse, and not better.
Many people say that it can take months to fully heal. I'm going to take it a few weeks at a time and see how things look.
Long Term Plans
While I'm on ‘running down time', I'll have to do more digging to see if I can come up with ways that address the root cause. There was certainly a reason that I was getting the condition. Unfortunately, even if I let it heal completely, it will come back without changes. For now, I'm thinking:
- Stop skimping on the stretches
- Run outdoors more. The hard surface of a treadmill creates a lot more impact than a dirt trail or track
- Mix running with other exercises. I've started lifting weights over the past few months. All of my cardio was running. This might have to change.
- Strengthen my foot. By adding strength to the surrounding areas, it takes pressure off the plantar fascia. That's the theory I've read, anyway. I've not concentrated on my feet during my weight lifting. I figured the running was building the muscles, right? Now I'm thinking that this might have been backward logic.
Readers, anybody out there ever had to deal with plantar fasciitis? Share your stories in the comments below.