What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Runners, particularly distance runners, have to deal with more than their fair share of injuries. The strain that endurance running has on the body can cause a lot of issues for even the most careful runners, with feet, knees, ankles and hips all feeling the strain of putting in the miles every week.

One of the most common running injuries is plantar fasciitis, a common cause of foot pain among both experienced and novice runners of al shapes and sizes. Here, we’ll take a look at some of the most common causes, how to treat the condition and how to help prevent it.

Symptoms of plantar fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis commonly manifests itself as a sharp pain or a deep ache, either along the arch of the foot or in the middle of the heel.

Many sufferers also find that they feel the pain when they first wake up in the morning as the foot tries to repair itself while being in a contracted position while they sleep. The first step of the day for plantar fasciitis sufferers is often fairly as a result of the sudden strain on the sole of the foot.

Some people also notice the pain after sitting still for an extended period, such as at a desk job, and can only ease the pain by moving around regularly.

What causes plantar fasciitis?

Runners often develop plantar fasciitis as a result of some significant change in their running program or their technique. Common causes of plantar fasciitis in runners include significant increases in distance, overtraining, a poor warm-up (particularly the calf muscles), poor foot structure and even the wrong running shoes.

The wrong choice of running shoe can cause damage to the plantar fascia, which is made of a fairly inflexible protein called collagen. Shoes which cause overpronation or shoes which are worn out tend to be the most common culprits, causing small tears in the plantar fascia which result in pain and inflammation.

Some people develop the condition through biomechanical flaws, such as high arches,  flat feet or a tight Achilles tendon.

Some other common causes include excessive training on hard surfaces like concrete, and even switching from wearing high heels all day before switching to flat running shoes before jogging (don’t run with high heels on instead, just make sure you’ve left some time in between switching!).

How is plantar fasciitis diagnosed?

If you notice the pain for longer than a couple of weeks, it’s important to see your doctor and/or a sports podiatrist. Typically, your doctor should be able to diagnose the condition with a routine examination. If there’s any ambiguity around the source of the foot pain then some further tests may be required, such as an x-ray or an ultrasound.

How is plantar fasciitis treated?

foot massageYour doctor can provide a specific treatment based on your own unique symptoms and causes, which can vary as drastically as simple support taping or orthotics to night splints and cortisone injections.

Resting the foot is one of the most important areas of treatment, and any excessive walking, standing or stretching of the foot (not to mention running) should largely be avoided.

Anti-inflammatories have also been shown to be fairly effective in decreasing symptoms, with medication like Ibuprofen or anti-inflammatory creams often proving helpful. As ever, always check with your doctor before taking any medication.

How to prevent plantar fasciitis

Like most training related injuries, prevention is far more important than the cure. Plantar fasciitis is the kind of condition which many people try to ‘train through the pain’; however, the longer the condition is present the more difficult it becomes to treat effectively.

To help prevent the condition, try to stick to running on softer surfaces and aim to increase mileage gradually rather than making big jumps. Try to make sure you’re wearing the right running shoes for both your foot type and your gait – most good running shops should be able to help you find something suitable.

A proper stretching routine can make a big difference too, so make sure you spend some time stretching the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendon before and after your workout.

The footwear you choose for when you’re not running is also an essential part of improving recovery time and preventing any additional discomfort. Aim for a shoe with decent arch support, as walking around in a flat shoe may cause issues with recovery.

What is the best running shoe for plantar fasciitis?

Unfortunately, there’s no single type of shoe which will work for everyone, it will largely depend on your symptoms, your foot type and your gait. By far the best thing to do is have a professional fitting and find the best kind of shoe for your own unique situation.

There are several people that will tell you a firmer running shoe with decent arch support can make a difference, but for every person arguing for a firmer sole you’ll find another that’s found something softer helped. Take some time in the store to try a few different styles, try them out on the treadmill (if they have one) and see what feels best.

Exercises for plantar fasciitis

Regular light stretching of the plantar fascia and the Achilles tendon can help to reduce some of the symptoms, as the pain some people experience is linked to the tightness in the Achilles. This tightness can cause the plantar fascia to tighten up, which can lead to pain and discomfort. It’s this tightening which happens overnight and can cause the aforementioned pain first thing in the morning.

There’s a great list of rehab and stretching exercises here (pdf file) which you can work through to help with the discomfort.

How long does it take to recover from plantar fasciitis?

It will largely depend on the person and the severity of the condition, but the vast majority of cases are resolved well within a year. Some people can recover within a few weeks while more severe cases can take a few months to heal. Getting proper treatment from your doctor and getting the right footwear can really help speed up recovery time.

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