Plantar Fasciitis and Heel Pain Insoles

 

Plantar fasciitis and heel pain is one of the most painful and debilitating conditions out there, and I can honestly say that I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy! Virtually anyone can end up suffering from this affliction but runners are almost guaranteed to be dealing with it at some point over the years as this particular group of people is unusually susceptible to developing plantar fasciitis. Home remedies can work wonders on reducing pain and inflammation, but the best long term solution to treating this condition is to review your running technique and make any necessary adjustments and improvements. This may sound like a daunting task but there are several techniques and resources that will help to heal current injuries or complaints and also help to prevent further injury from occurring.

The Plantar Tendon: Where Is It and What Is its Purpose?

If you run your hand from the base of your toes to the front of your heel then you’re basically following the course that your plantar tendon runs as well. This tendon is then covered by a fibrous connective tissue called ‘fascia’, and it prevents the arch of the foot from completely collapsing when we perform weight bearing activities. This is quite important as having a sufficient strong arch ensures that the force of impact is properly absorbed when we walk or run. A healthy plantar fascia makes for a much happier body overall.

 

What is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis occurs when the fascia tissue covering the plantar tendon becomes irritated and inflamed. Pain symptoms are usually present and can range from mild soreness to complete debilitation.

 

What Causes It?

Plantar fasciitis can be triggered by a variety of factors but there are a few activities that can be particularly linked to this type of inflammation:

  • Standing or walking for long periods of time
  • Climbing or descending hills (walking and running)
  • Frequently climbing stairs or for delivery drivers mounting the steps to their trucks
  • Wearing high heels
  • Dorsiflexing (pointing the toes upward when walking or running)
  • Inflexible/tight calf muscles
  • Tight Achilles tendon
  • Wearing worn out/old shoes
  • Having unusually high or flat arches
  • Obesity/being overweight
  • Having a large stride: If you overextend with your legs when walking or running the force of impact on your heels is magnified to a force equivalent to six times your body weight, every time you touch down when you walk or run.

Having contracted muscles can lead to plantar fasciitis and it can also damage the fascia’s attachment to the front of heel. If the tendon is stretched beyond the fascia’s ability to stretch, then micro-tears can develop and the fascia can begin to loosen from the bone.

Heel spurs can also develop when the plantar tendon is hyper extended for an overly long amount of time, as this can cause calcium deposits to occur in the space between the tendon and the heel bone.

 

Plantar Fasciitis: How It Feel?

Symptoms may vary with each individual but there are few commonalities found in most cases:

  • You may experience the feeling that there is a lump in the heel of your shoe or that there is a ‘thick’ spot on the heel. There is usually no pain initially associated with this lump or thickening.
  • While the lump itself may not cause discomfort sensitivity may develop in the heel area. This pain may acute first thing in the morning if when you have been seated for extended periods of time. The pain may lessen as you become mobile.
  • The discomfort may begin to present itself throughout the day and the lump may start to feel more like a stone. You may become more aware of it while you are standing, walking, or running.
  • The pain becomes intense and chronic enough that you begin to search for information, diagnosis, and treatment.

 

I Have Plantar Fasciitis. What Now?

Now that your pain has been diagnosed you will need to apply the recommended treatments, and be patient; your symptoms didn’t develop overnight and they will not be eased overnight either. And take heart; you can take steps to help prevent it from reoccurring and if it does reoccur you will be much more able to begin early treatment.

 

Tips for Prevention and Early Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis

  • Relax: Avoid unnecessary contraction in the muscles of your ankles and calves when walking, running, sitting or standing. Continuous clenching of the muscles in the legs or buttocks will cause a trickle-down effect that eventually causes tension in the plantar tendon.

 

  • Walk Softly:  Practice landing gently on the mid-foot instead of landing hard on your heel when walking or running. Landing softly reduces the amount of stress on your plantar tendon.

 

  • Shorten Your Stride: Take shorter steps when walking or running; it isn’t necessary to take huge steps to propel yourself forward. Gravity will do its part as we lean forward with the body; we were designed to ‘fall forward’ into motion with the body first and our legs second. The same is true when running—be sure to lean forward from the ankles and to shorten your stride.

 

If you combine the above tips with regular stretching of the muscles you should be able to greatly reduce symptoms:

Stretch A

  • Face a wall and stand about an arm’s length away from it.
  • Relax your body.
  • Place your hands at shoulder height and shoulder width apart on the wall. Bend your elbows and slowly lower yourself to the wall.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
  • Stretch 4 times daily.

 

Stretch B

  • Stand on a low stair using a wall or railing. If you wish, use a wall or railing for balance.
  • Let your heels hang off the end of the step.
  • Gently lower your heels until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs and your ankles.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
  • Stretch 4 times daily.

 

Tip: When you must remain seated for long periods of time stretch your legs and feet by point your toes toward the ceiling. This exercise stretches both the muscles in the calf and the Achilles tendon, and it releases the strain in your plantar tendon and the encapsulating fascia as well.

The following tips may also reduce your level of discomfort and may also help to prevent plantar fasciitis from reoccurring in the future:

  • Walk on level ground as much as possible; even terrain can make inflammation worse.
  • If you’re a runner avoid both hills and concrete surfaces; stay on running tracks, trails or use a treadmill.
  • Place a thick rubber mat on the floor is your job requires you to stand for excessive amounts of time.
  • Invest in a foot and leg massage: loosening tense muscles will reduce the pressure on the plantar fascia.

Treating Serious Pain

 

Even if your discomfort becomes severe there are steps you can take to reduce pain levels:

  • Use an ice bath as a foot soak for 5 to 10 minutes, twice daily while pain and inflammation are at their peak. The uncomfortable sensation of cold is worth the relief you will afterward!
  • Scrunch a towel with your toes or try to pick  up marbles with your feet; this is a great exercise for the tendons of the feet.
  • Walk barefoot on a textured surface such as gravel.  While this may be uncomfortable it will keep the tendons supple. Walking barefoot over grass is beneficial as well, just be careful not to  step on anything sharp.
  • Use a heel orthotics or insole to for arch  support, cushioning and to reduce the tension in your calf muscles.

Summary

Plantar fasciitis is a common affliction, especially among runners but it is possible to treat symptoms and reduce the risk of this condition reoccurring. Treatment and prevention take time and patience, but as anyone who has ever suffered from this painful condition can tell you, it’s well worth the effort!

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