Plantar fasciitis and the lessons I have learned

Plantar fasciitis - courtesy of MayoClinic.com
courtesy of MayoClinic.com

I was just cleaning my bedroom and while moving my “Stick” and “Trigger Point” kits from one side of the nightstand to, well, the other, I realized that I may have something of value to share.

You see, I have had bouts of plantar fasciitis off and on for four years.  It always strikes when I increase distance or speed.  I am an over pronator, and apparently we are prone to the injury.  Over time, I have learned to detect its onset and how to heal my body.  I can get past it in a couple weeks with no real impact to my training.

(Before we go any further, I must do the standard disclaimer.  I have zero medical training.  I take no responsibility for what you do to your legs, feet or any other part of your body.  I realize people get this far worse than I do, and require much more rigorous treatment.  You should absolutely see your doctor or PT if your heel is in pain.  I learned all of this through following my PT’s orders.)

Plantar fasciitis is very painful.  In the beginning, it just feels like a bruised heel.  The first time I had it, I thought I had landed on a rock.  A few days later, I couldn’t walk after first waking.

According to SportsInjuryClinic.net, “the most common cause of plantar fasciitis is very tight calf muscles which leads to prolonged and / or high velocity pronation of the foot. This in turn produces repetitive over stretching of the plantar fascia leading to inflammation and thickening of the tendon. As the fascia thickens it loses flexibility and strength.”  What this means is that your calf muscle/lower calf muscle gets tight, which in turn pulls on your plantar fascia, which in turn hurts.

The first time I had it, I was off the road for six weeks and struggled with daily elliptical boredom.  I was in physical therapy multiple times a week.  I  ordered my first pair of customized orthodics, which I now replace every two years.

What I learned during this phase was to stretch, stretch, stretch those lower calf muscles.  Keep ’em  loose, loose, loose.

To do this, I have found three pieces of very simple equipment that keep me disciplined — usually — and really have made an impact.

During my first bought, I purchased the Trigger Point technology total body package, which includes massage equipment specific to Platar Fasciitis (the TP Footballer).

Trigger Point Technology - for Plantar Fasciitis
Trigger Point Technology - for Plantar Fasciitis

It is an awkward little device.  You basically put your calf on an oddly shaped ball and roll back and forth.

By golly, if it doesn’t work miracles!  It really hits deeply at the calf and bottom leg muscles to loosen the tightness that is causing your heel to hurt.  I believe it is the most important piece of equipment I have, after my shoes and water bottle.

While the TriggerPoint kit works miracles, my own stretching of the calf needed some help.   I tried to stretch on the stairs and the wall, but I was kind of ineffective.  During a visit to our local running store, I saw a wooden calf stretching block.

Wooden Calf Block, even fancier than the one I have
Wooden Calf Block, even fancier than the one I have

It seemed a bit pricey for a chunk of wood, but I figured I’d give it a go.  It simply stretches your calf muscles.   That’s about it, and what a wonderful job it does.  I use it all the time.  I placed it in my family room, which was genius because it combats “out of sight, out of mind.”   Since it stays in the family room, I use it while watching TV or helping the kids do homework.

Eventually I got around to buying “The Stick”.  I don’t like to use the Trigger Point system for my IT Band.  It is too awkward.  So I bought The Stick for my upper leg, but have ended up using it all around.  It is a nice addition to my panel of devices, but the one I would give up first.  I use it for a few minutes when I am going to bed.

The Stick - for sore muscles
The Stick - for sore muscles

While I have the equipment to ward off plantar fasciitis, my system only works if I actually use it.  Where I get into trouble is when I get lazy and don’t stretch.  This happens on an annual basis.  I am only human.

However, I have learned to detect the onset of the cycle.  If my heel feels the slightest hint of sore, I am Johnny-on-the-spot with preventing further injury. Practice makes perfect.  I immediately go into action, whipping out my TP kit and religiously working my legs multiple times a day.

I typically get rid of the pain within two weeks, and all without sacrificing my running.

Reminds me, I should go stretch.

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11 Comments Add yours

  1. Andy Pope says:

    I found your article through a Google search. This is very helpful, as I have decided to train for the San Francisco Marathon, and the first thing I noticed the first day of the second week was a pain on the bottom of my foot, first thing in the morning, that endured for 30-45 seconds. After reading your blog, I don’t think I have plantar fasciitis, but I have some good ideas about how to ward it off. I’ll send this link to a friend of mine who was just out for six months and is still concerned. Thanks, and good running!

  2. Cliff says:

    There are many stretching exercises that help those who have plantar fasciitis. He may need an orthotics or insoles insert for his shoes. Also use of a medication such as celebrex will help. Sometimes a cortisone shot in the foot is required, Physical therapy and foot massages help. But the good news is that it sometimes goes away on its own in 2 years time.
    It is terribly painful in that you feel as if you are walking on glass and you get foot and leg cramps. But when it goes it is a great relief.

  3. teethwiki says:

    I am trying to heal a case of PF right now and I have noticed some of the same things you have. I read about all the stretches, ice massage, etc and it seems like the more stretching I do the worse it gets. I think I am over doing the treatments. In the last couple of days I have been resting my foot as much as possible, rolling a tennis ball and using moist heat. I really haven’t seen too many places that suggest heat, but it seems to feel better to me than the ice. Anyone else use heat. I am suppose to be running in the Race for the Cure on Oct. 18, but right now I just hope I will be able to walk it. I am a 20 year breast cancer survivor, so it’s really special to me. It’s my first race and before my foot started acting up so much I was able to run a mile, walk a couple of minutes, run 1/2 mile walk a couple minutes, etc. My best time walk/running 3 miles was about 40 minutes. I was going to be very happy with that time since I only started running in June of this year. I want to be able to participate so bad. I have been raising money and talking about it to my friends and family, so I really want to do this.
    Sorry I got so long winded, but I really, really love running.

  4. runrunrunrun says:

    Hang in there with your PF. It can take a really long time to heal. I think you are right in resting your foot for now. Having patience can pay off. A friend of mine was out for over a year wit PF and came back to break 20 hours at Western States 100 this month.

    I applaud your Race for the Cure efforts and I am so thankful you are a survivor! My childhood best friend died of breast cancer 18 months ago at the young age of 38. Keep up the fight, even if you have to walk it!

    -JW

  5. Melissa says:

    I know this is article was written quite a while ago, but I’m in Physical Therapy right now for knee problems due to weak hips and tight calves. My PT put me on a stretching regime and said to go buy Wheel Chocks that are typically used to keep RVs from rolling away. They are only $4 at walmart and achieve the same stretch results. Just FYI for whoever reads this. 🙂

  6. Koji Kawano says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ve had minor cases of PF before, and now my right foot has a full-blown PF. Having read other resources, it looks not impossible training through a PF treatment process, so I am going to attempt a near miracle.

  7. Kelly says:

    I have super tight calves. I been suffering from PF for 4 years. I have done everything, stretching, orthodics cortisone and even PRP. I just did my first session of Acupuncture. It may sound crazy but in one day I feel a difference. Calf’s are sore, but they feel released, and its amazing because now I know how tight they really were. I can’t wait for next session.

  8. Audrey says:

    Hi, Thanks for your post. I have had PF since late November– my question is whether you have seen it seem to move up the calf– I now have very bad pain in my same side calf (like a tight knot in the muscle) that aches almost worse than the PF in my foot! Does this seem normal? Thanks! audrey

  9. dfvsuhoiuf says:

    glory halleluyah – this is so right, I firmly believe it is tight calfs and or cramps that cause PF. Stretching the calfs is indeed the way to fix it but once you got it it is hard to get rid of because of the stubborn inflammation issue. Get the inflammation down with ice morning noon and night and stretch those calf muscles , a nighttime stint (cast) to stretch your foot toward your head keeps those calf muscles stretched thru the night . Orthodontics will help but a good arch support shoe and dr, shoals is less expensive.

  10. julianneruns says:

    It’s worked every time for me. I can usually keep it from flaring up if I stretch.

  11. nuovablog says:

    I have heard thta kt tape is really good for plantar fascitiis? is this true and do you need to have a proffesional apply it or can anyone tape up?

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