Started to notice a growing amount of pain underneath your feet? Especially near your heel? There’s a good chance that the cause of your pain is plantar fasciitis (PF). PF is one of the most common, and most annoying, threats to your training, and it can keep you sidelined for months if you don’t take appropriate action. This article walks you through the symptoms, common causes, cures, and long-term prevention strategies.
I’ve written this article based on my own personal experience as both a coach and an athlete, but it’s important to remember that I’m not a medical professional. If you’re really worried about an injury or issue, then book in to see your doctor, and ideally ask for referral to a sports physiotherapist.
What is plantar fasciitis?
As I said above, PF is probably the most common cause of heel pain. The name comes from the “plantar fascia,” which is the flat band of tissue that connects your toes to your heel bone. This fascia is designed to support your foot arch.
Plantar fasciitis is the name given when your plantar fascia becomes damaged, irritated, and inflamed.
The biggest warning sign for PF is foot pain first thing in the morning. This is because your foot will have been in a relaxed position all night, with the plantar fascia temporarily shortening.
Similarly, another warning sign is foot pain when moving after periods of inactivity. The reasoning here is exactly the same as when sleeping.
You may also notice pain when climbing stairs, or after standing for long periods of time.
For non-athletic populations the most common cause of PF is being overweight, especially when this occurs in conjunction with high arches or flat feet.
Another pedestrian cause is excessive pronation, i.e. your feet roll too far inwards as you walk.
For athletic populations (which will be most of you reading) the issue is almost always an overuse injury. Basically, you’ve put your foot through repetitive impact over and over again until it couldn’t take it anymore!
Activities such as running, jumping, and skipping (especially on hard ground) are the most common causes. It’s made worse if you’re wearing old shoes without much cushioning or support.
For both populations: Active or not, most cases of PF are accompanied by excessively tight calf muscles.
How to treat plantar fasciitis
There are 4 ways to “treat” PF:
1. Rest your feet. As obvious as it sounds, since your injury was caused by overuse the simplest way to encourage healing is to reduce that usage.
Unlike most doctors, however, I’m not going to tell you to stop exercising! Instead, I recommend that you alter your training to accommodate your needs. Try to pick more low-impact activities such as cycling or swimming. This will allow you to maintain your cardio fitness without overusing your feet.
If you absolutely have to run (for example, you have a huge charity event in 2 weeks), then my advice is to only run on softer ground so as to lessen the impact. It’s not perfect, but it should help to limit the damage.
2. Ice your feet. Since PF is an inflammation, cooling your feet with ice (especially after training) can be a useful way to encourage recovery.
3. Stretch your feet. Since PF is linked to your plantar fascia getting tight, you can help to release some tension by stretching. I recommend various calf stretches, as well as some light work with a tennis or lacrosse ball on the soles of your feet.
4. If necessary, take an anti-inflammatory medication. Again, since PF is inflammation-based, anti-inflammatory medications can help. However, I recommend using these sparingly.
How long will I have plantar fasciitis?
Great question, and the honest answer is … it depends on a range of factors. If you give your feet plenty of rest and ice regularly at the first sign of PF, then you’ll probably be pain-free in a matter of weeks. However, if you try to ignore the issue or run through it and ignore the advice above, you could be dealing with it for many months to come.
How to prevent plantar fasciitis
As you’ve probably noticed, there’s not a whole lot you can do once you have PF. So if you want your training to continue uninterrupted in the future, you need to focus on long-term prevention strategies.
1. Lose weight. If you’re overweight, then one of the best ways to reduce your injury risk is to reduce your bodyweight. We have some great articles on calories and macronutrients that can help you with that. [Insert link]
2. Wear supportive footwear. Old, worn-out footwear won’t offer the cushioning and support that it’s supposed to. Try to get a new pair of shoes every 300–600 miles (I know that’s quite a range, but build quality does vary quite significantly!).
3. Stretch. As well as treating PF, you can help to prevent it by following a regular stretching routine. I recommend calf stretches as well as some tennis or lacrosse ball work on the underside of your foot.
4. Try to limit hard-surface impact. If you’re a runner, try to perform more runs on the grass, or swap a couple of runs for some low-impact activities like swimming or cycling.
5. Build up gradually. The golden rule for all exercise: Progress at a sensible rate over time and don’t try to accomplish everything in the first few weeks!
Rest, ice, recover!
That’s it – my quick guide to plantar fasciitis. As with most overuse injuries, there’s no miracle cure, just rest and attempting to reduce inflammation. However, if you read all the way through then you now know some simple prevention tips as well as the early signs to look out for. Train sensibly, train safely, and have fun!