Plantar fasciitis is the root of all heel pain for runners and affects an estimated 15 percent of 50 million who lace ‘em up worldwide.
The plantar fascia is the taut tissue that makes up the arch of the foot and attaches the heel to the base of the toes. A burning or pulling sensation underfoot (think hot coals or a shooting pain) is a key warning sign of plantar fasciitis.
Even seasoned runners can confuse plantar fascitis with a stress fracture or bone spurs; a quick way to tell the difference is to raise up on tip toes. The discomfort of a stress fracture or bone spurs will ease up when the heel is off the ground. The shooting pain of plantar fascia will continue or even worsen.
When the tightrope of the plantar fascia becomes inflamed, the connective muscle, known as the flexor digitorum brevis (FDB), tends to overcompensate—often resulting in additional pain or possible tears.
Even runners who are not getting that burning sensation underfoot are encouraged to train and strengthen the FDB to avoid trouble with plantar fasciitis.
Here are three ways to work the FDB and its co-pilot the plantar fascia into top shape:
Stretching: You’ve heard it before, but every stretch from your core to the tips of your toes is key. Stretching your toes by standing and pushing them up against a wall with heels flat (and wiggling) is key. Hold for anywhere between a 10 and 30 count.
Golf or tennis ball massage: Even if you’re watching your favorite season of Orange is the New Black you can “roll out” your plantar fasciitis injury. Imagine your foot as your hand and the ball as a game of Centipede. Apologies to anyone under the age of 35 reading this.
Foam roller: Not just for the IT band anymore. Everything is connected and a tightness in the hips, shoulders, arms and legs can invite plantar fasciitis to the party.
But prevention only may not always keep the symptoms at bay. Plantar fasciitis is usually brought on by a sudden increase of mileage, increased intensity or a switch of terrain (from flat to hills) during workouts. Not surprisingly, the best way to undo the damage underfoot is to roll back mileage, take the intensity down a notch or run on soft, even surfaces. The old doctor joke punchline “Don’t go like that” applies to plantar fasciitis sufferers.
Custom orthotics that meet up with the arch or compression gear such as the Feetures Plantar Fasciitis Sleeve also help keep the pain in check and initiate the healing by cushioning the contact point with the ground and helping increase blood flow in the footbed.
Runners should also pay attention to how they strike. Heel striking is recommended along with a shortened stride length while the plantar fascia is getting healthy.
Those who dread hill workouts can also rejoice that they’ll have a few weeks/months to do some work on flat ground, focusing on form and getting back to the roots of running.