I’ve had several people ask whether I’ve had plantar fasciitis and how I cured it. Answers: yes and sort of. Yes, I have definitely had it, and I sort of got over it, though I don’t know if you ever really cure it. For me, plantar fasciitis has flared up twice — in 2005 and 2012. Each time was related to minor changes I’d made that, in hindsight, were kind of dumb. I am not a doctor, but these remedies in some combination worked for me.
First, let’s talk about why it happened. The first time I had significant pain between my sole and heel was in 2005 when I first started going on runs longer than the half marathon distance. I was wearing a pair of Asics 2000 series that were too wide so my foot was swimming inside the shoe. I made the mistake of putting about 600 miles on these shoes before I changed them, too. I must’ve had them for about half my life in graduate school. I also had no idea how to gradually increase my mileage. One week I was running 20 miles; the next week I was up to 35. I fell in to the too-much-too-fast-too-soon trap that all the running books warn you about. I didn’t know if all runners had sore feet and just didn’t talk about it or if I had a legitimate problem. The college doctor diagnosed me with PF and told me to not run for four weeks.
The second time PF came back was seven years later when I was stupidly experimenting with incredibly minimalist shoes leading up to a marathon. Minimalist shoes put too much stress on my lower legs, which my body transferred to my feet. So even when I was tapering, I was still in minimalist shoes, and I wasn’t doing myself any favors or giving my feet a break.
What Didn’t Work
- Pool Running: I was the most pathetic pool runner. I strapped a blue floaty belt to my waist and paddled/tread up and down the swim lanes while the real swimmers passed me by. I wanted to cry after about 20 minutes of doing this and gave up on the idea after a few weeks. I switched to the elliptical and the bike instead. Pool running does not simulate real running. It is terrible. The end.
- Shoe Inserts: In fairness, to say they didn’t work is a bit harsh. They just didn’t do anything positive for me. They made my shoes heavier and transferred the pain from my feet to my hips. I think my feet felt better and cushioned, but my form was lousy. On the bright side, I now wear the inserts in my walking shoes since they’re super-cushy.
- Running Through the Pain: Duh, you say, this doesn’t work. I try to run through the pain every time without scaling back my mileage. I will say for me the pain is only bad for the first two or three miles and then my foot relaxes, but when I stop running, the muscles tighten up even worse, leading to excruciating pain.
- Icy Water Bottle: Maybe this is more of a helpful mental trick, but when I roll my arch over a frozen water bottle, the pain seems to go away faster than when I roll my foot over a golf ball or anything else. I like a Vitamin Water bottle because it has nice grooves.
- Foot Wheel: If you don’t want to be that weirdo at work with a frozen water bottle under your desk, be the weirdo at work with a Foot Wheel under your desk. The Foot Wheel works better than a golf ball because it is less likely to roll away. It is better than a golf ball at getting at the trigger points to relieve pain, too.
- Strassburg Sock: This is the silliest remedy, but it works! I tried sleeping in the sock and ended up taking it off most nights because I would roll over to a weird position where the sock would stretch my foot in an uncomfortable way. The sock works by pulling back your toes to actively stretch the bottom of your foot without you having to work at it.
- Alternating Shoes: I stopped wearing only minimalist shoes when my PF came back. I also run in shoes for about 400 miles, on average, or sometimes a little less if the shoes are starting to feel worn out.
- Crocs Around the House and Structured Shoes at Work: My podiatrist recommended I not walk around in bare feet around the house and that I wear more structured shoes to work. He picked up my poor cutesy black ballet flats and bent them in half, saying, “Shoes should not do this!” My feet are much more comfortable now.
- NSAIDs: In extreme cases, doctors recommend using anti-inflammatories to treat the pain. I had great luck with extra-strength Tylenol, but I only used it if I was in extreme pain, and I used it to get through the Chicago Marathon, with my doctor’s permission. NSAIDs tend to upset my stomach, so I used them sparingly.
- More stuff that might work: In July 2013, RunnersWorld.com came up with this list of additional items that might work for PF. You might give some of these a shot too.
The PF took about three weeks to fully rehab each time. The onset was a little abrupt. Each time, it came on at the end of a moderately long run. But I should have seen the warning signs of slight aches and pains and weird biomechanical changes before the pain hit. I have not had any pain since September 2012, though I’ve increased my mileage steadily by an average of about five miles per week since then. I also switch between minimal and semi-minimal shoes now so I am not putting so much stress on my lower legs every single day.