Top 10 Tips For Treating Plantar Fasciitis…On Your Own!
If your first few steps out of bed in the morning feel like you’re stepping on ice picks, you’re likely suffering from the ever dreaded plantar fasciitis (PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis), a painful, annoying, and often seriously stubborn condition that can make a root canal seem like a walk in the park. Fortunately, regardless of its severity, there are a some simple things you can do on your own to greatly reduce, or even completely eliminate, this painful condition.
Interested in finding out what those things are? You can find out below.
Your plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue found in the bottom part of your foot. It basically connects the back of your foot to the front of your foot and plays an important role in supporting your arches as well as in making the foot more stable. In plantar fasciitis, this band of tissue becomes inflamed and painful.
The breakdown of the name looks like this:
Plantar = bottom of foot
Fasciitis = inflammation of fascia (tissue surrounding a muscle)
Plantar fasciitis then, is inflammation of the fascia at the bottom of the foot. Simple, right?
So What Causes This Plantar Fasciitis Thing You Speak Of?
There are various risk factors associated with the development of plantar fasciitis. Search for “causes of plantar fasciitis” on the web and you’re very likely to see the following risk factors listed; high and low arches, running long distances, being overweight, improper shoe choice, etc.
Interestingly, these are all secondary to the greatest risk factor of all. What is that you ask? Well, in 2004, a study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (MSSE) showed that the greatest and clearest risk factor in the development of plantar fasciiits is actually the speed at which your toes bend back, or dorsiflex, as your foot is pushing off the ground while running and/or walking.
“Wait, what? (That’s what I said the first time I learned that anyway.)
I’ll say it again differently. The faster your toes dorsiflex (bend back) at push-off (when your foot is pushing you forward while walking or running), the more likely you are to develop plantar fasciitis.
Great question. Remember how earlier I mentioned that the plantar fascia basically connects the back of your foot to the front of your foot? Well, to be more precise, it actually connects your toes to your heel. This attachment point at the heel is where most plantar fascial injuries and pain occur.
When your toes bend up (dorsiflex) while walking or running, they pull the plantar fascia forward and around the ball, or forward part, of your foot. This, in turn, pulls the back of your foot towards the front of your foot, which both raises your arch and makes your foot more stable. (see diagram to right)
What does this have to do with plantar fasciitis? Well, when your toes bend back (dorsiflex) too quickly, more stress gets transferred to the plantar fascia. Overtime, this increased stress can cause the plantar fascia to begin to break down. It is this repeated increased strain on the plantar fascia that increases your risk for developing plantar fasciitis.
Just as with any part of the body, greater stress equals a greater risk of injury.
Ok, Got It. But How Do I Treat It?
Ok, ok. Time to get down to the nitty-gritty. Now that you have a basic understanding of how and why plantar fasciitis occurs, our approach to treating it will make a lot more sense.
Basically, all of the tips I’ll share with you below have the same goal in mind, which is to slow down the rate, as well as reduce the amount, your toes bend back (dorsiflex) when walking and/or running. Why? Because, this will reduce the amount of stress transferred to the plantar fascia, which will help reduce pain and allow the injury to heal more quickly.
Sound good? Ok. Let’s get into the 10 best self-help tips for plantar fasciitis.
The 10 Best Tips For Treating Plantar Fasciitis…On Your Own
A Quick Note: Oftentimes, it will take some combination of the tips shared below to produce favorable results. In other words, don’t pick just one and expect it to work (although it may). Try picking two or three tips that you know you can stick with and then give it some time. This will greatly increase your chances for success.
Additionally, I wrote an entire book on how to treat and prevent injuries on your own titled, “Injury Guide: How To Treat and Prevent Most Musculoskeletal Injuries…On Your Own!“. It contains over 45 different commonly experienced injuries (including plantar fasciitis) and shows you exactly what to do to treat them on your own. Check it out here if you’re interested.
Top Ten Tips:
1. Stretch Your Calves – Why It Works: Tight calves (the muscles at the back of your lower leg) can lead to an early lifting of your heel when walking or running. This early lifting forces the toes to bend back (dorsiflex) prematurely, and to a greater degree, which places additional strain on the plantar fascia. Keeping your calves flexible basically prevents this. If you’re not good at stretching during the day, a plantar fasciitis night splint can be a good option for increasing flexibility while you sleep.
2. Wear Stiffer Shoes – Why it works: Stiffer shoes lessen the amount your toes bend back (dorsiflex) while walking or running. The less your toes bend back (dorsiflex), the less strain gets transferred to the plantar fascia. Dansko’s are generally considered as a good option for those looking for a stiffer “dress” shoe. For running shoes, you can evaluate stiffness by grabbing the ends of the shoe with both hands and twisting it. You can see from the pictures below how much more a flexible shoe bends when compared to a stiff shoe.
3. Strengthen Your Toe Muscles – Why it works: When strong, the muscles that work to flex your toes also help to slow down the rate your toes bend back when walking and running. This will lessen the amount of strain that reaches the plantar fascia and allow it to heal. Strengthening your toes can be done by repeatedly flexing your toes (curling them down) against resistance. A stretchy band wrapped around your toes works great for this.
4. Curl Your Toes – Why it works: Purposely curling your toes into the ground with each step prevents them from going into extension (bending up). This prevents any strain from reaching the plantar fascia and can greatly reduce the pain you experience while walking and running.
5. Use Orthotics – Why it works: Orthotics help to distribute pressure more evenly across the bottom of the foot and can help normalize foot function. Sometimes, this is all that is needed to relieve the pain from plantar fasciitis.
Note: You don’t necessarily need to spend a lot of money on custom orthotics for this tip to work. In our office, we sale Powerstep Orthotics that often work extremely well and last a good amount of time. (I’m currently wearing a pair I’ve had for two years.)
6. Stretch/Massage The Plantar Facia – Why it works: Stretching and/or massaging the plantar fascia can help to reduce tension which can help alleviate some of the pain from plantar fasciitis. One popular way to massage the plantar fascia is with a golf ball placed on the ground. Simply role your foot over the ball to to massage it out. Stretching can be done by crossing your foot over your opposite knee, bending your foot up, then pulling up on your big toe. Holding this position for ten seconds, for up to 30 times per day, has been shown to be an effective treatment for plantar fasciitis.
For Severe Cases:
7. Rocker Bottom Shoes – Why it works: Rocker bottom shoes often work great for severe cases of plantar fasciitis. Because of their rounded shape, rocker bottom shoes greatly reduce, or in some cases completely eliminate, the amount your toes have to bend back while walking and running. This greatly reduces strain on the plantar fascia and is often a very effective method for reducing pain even in severe cases of plantar fasciitis.
8. Decrease Stride Length – Why it works: Decreasing your stride length while running also decreases the amount of toe dorsiflexion (upward bending of toes) necessary with each step. This, in turn, decreases the amount of strain transferred to the plantar fascia. Although this will slow your pace down some, it can help reduce the pain and allow you to continue running while the condition heals.
9. Switch To A Rearfoot Contact Point – Why it works: This tip is for those who run with a mid or forefoot strike pattern. Switching to a rearfoot contact point while running takes a lot of pressure off the forward part of your foot, including the plantar fascia. Although this will require you to change up your form for a short time, it may allow you to continue running through this painful condition.
10. Loose the Heels – Why it works: Wearing heels is basically like doing the exact opposite of all the tips recommended above. They shorten the calf muscles, weaken the toe flexor muscles, and force your toes into extension (bends them up). All these things place an enormous amount of strain on the plantar fascia which will only serve to make the plantar fasciitis worse, or at the very least, prolong your recovery.
Regardless of the option(s) you choose, the important thing when dealing with plantar fasciitis is to give the plantar fascia a break. To varying degrees, all of the tips shared above do just that.
When To See A Doctor
Plantar fasciitis is often a frustrating and difficult condition to manage. And as with any condition, there are times when you should see a doctor. For starters, if you are not completely sure that what you are experiencing is plantar fasciitis, be sure to seek out the advice of a doctor before trying any of the tips above, as they could exacerbate other conditions. Additionally, if your condition continues to worsen, or remains unchanged, you’ll want to see a doctor to discuss other possible treatment options.
Have you successfully treated a case of plantar fasciitis on your own? What tips do you have for others who might be suffering? Please share below.
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