As a sport or activity, running is really pretty basic. For the most part, it doesn’t necessitate a ton of equipment or gear, nor does it require years of technical and specialized training. Provided you have a pair of shoes on your feet (which even some people eschew) and propel yourself in a generally-more-often-than-not forward direction, you can say that you run and that you are a runner. At its base level, running is about one-legged hopping and putting one foot before the other, hundreds and thousands of times, over and over again.
All of this said, however, when you get down to the mechanics of running, it can get fairly complicated. There are many forces of physics involved – actions and reactions, force, momentum, and the like – and so it should be no surprise that our body can really take a beating from our running. It’s not a high-impact activity like American football, but running still has a relatively high injury rate, with most runners suffering from at least one running-related malady during their tenure.
One of the most common running injuries is Plantar Fasciitis, or PF. If you’re a runner who has complained about having heel pain, it’s likely that you have PF. WebMD describes PF in this way:
“plantar fascia is the flat band of tissue (ligament) that connects your heel bone to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot. If you strain your plantar fascia, it gets weak, swollen, and irritated (inflamed). Then your heel or the bottom of your foot hurts when you stand or walk.”
People who have had PF, who have inflamed the fascia in the bottoms of their feet, usually say that it’s most painful first thing in the morning and that they feel intense pain when they’re first getting out of bed, when they put their feet on the floor for the first time.
Unfortunately, PF isn’t a type of injury that can go away overnight with a quick fix. Instead, treating and rehabing PF requires a good mixture of patience, persistence, time off, and sometimes even therapy or therapeutic devices. Eventually, provided you treat it correctly from the get-go, you should be able to expect returning to your normal activities.
Here are some general tips about how to treat PF. It’s important to note that my advice here is generic in nature, so if you’re suffering from PF, or think that you might be, I implore you to seek counsel from your medical practitioner who will be able to diagnose your condition and give you even more specific rehab treatment plans.
Minimize the Inflammation
When you have PF, it’s imperative that you do everything you can to minimize the inflammation, and typically, that means that you have to stop your usual activity (running, hiking, walking, or the like) immediately. Essentially, you want to minimize the time you voluntarily spend on your feet. Some people feel that using some homeopathic techniques like Epsom salt baths or essential oils also help them reduce inflammation, too. I’d recommend steering clear of over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatories simply because you don’t want to mask the pain or trick yourself into thinking that you’re getting better when you’re not; it’s important to avoid treating only the symptoms. Again, consulting with a medical professional is a great idea early on because not only will you get a specific diagnosis, but the medical professional could also deem whether wearing a therapeutic device like a PF boot, or enrolling in physical therapy, is necessary.
Rehab Slowly and By Following Directions
As with any injury, when it’s time for rehab, slow and steady will win the race. PF is a beast of an injury simply because it can take so long to recover from, so keep that in mind when you’re in the throes of rehabbing; in other words, don’t do too much, too soon, too fast. Don’t do anything to set yourself back! Your medical professional might recommend a series of foot-strengthening or calf-strengthening exercises to help you gain strength in muscles that are either weak or incredibly tight, and you can even knead and massage the bottoms of your feet by rolling them on a frozen canister of orange juice. A physiotherapist or PT might also recommend other recovery techniques and devices that are specifically unique to PF treatment, too. Your treatment plan may also include walking very short distances barefoot, in your home, to further give your feet a chance to become stronger.
Prevent PF From Happening Again
It is my sincerest hope that you won’t have PF ever, or if you do get it, it will simply be a one-and-done type of injury. To possibly prevent PF from occurring, consider doing foot-strengthening exercises or developing habits that will help you strengthen your feet early on. Some people enjoy wearing more minimalist-types of shoes, running or otherwise, because they are better able to make contact with the ground and develop their foot muscles. Similarly, many others swear by spending a lot of their time at home barefoot. If you go the minimalist-shoe route, however, be careful; going from a thicker-soled shoe to one significantly smaller can be a little deleterious on your body if you’re not careful. Transition into this new type of shoe slowly and deliberately – again, slow and steady wins the race – and listen to your body if you’re feeling excessive heel pain or calf tightness. Consider only wearing or exercising in minimalist shoes for short duration at first before using them routinely (or exclusively).
PF is an unfortunately common annoyance that sidelines many runners and other athletes each year, but it’s also a malady that is fairly easy to treat; it’s cumbersome because of the likely long time frame that its recovery necessitates. It’s my hope that my tips above will leave you PF-free and will help you learn how to strengthen your feet, perhaps even allowing you to evade the PF beast in the first place.
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com, gearweare.com, monicashealthmag.com & nicershoes.com and he has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.