Plantar fasciitis – don’t let it run away with you!

Everyday I walk our dog, the lovely bouncing springer spaniel, Bella. She and I have our own style of ‘bouncing’ hers involves four legs, considerable strength and agility and her indomitable joy to be in the fields, mine is of course the same (ha ha) but I have two legs instead of four – I wish!

Instead at this time of year I negotiate sticky mud, barbed wire avoidance when slipping in sticky mud and more mud as I wear my trusty wellies as we bounce our way around the wonderful fields where we live.

So over the past few months, I have been aware of a niggling pain in my heal which last week progressed to a red hot poker shooting up my leg, two miles from home, in the pouring rain – in my wellies. As I limped back up the lane, the hours of anatomy revision pinged this sentence into my brain, ‘Achilles tendon insertion at calcaneous is the plantar fascia a thick fibrous band of connective tissue, which is easy to strain, especially in poor foot wear resulting in plantar fasciitis.’ 

Three things happened at this point – first a mental ‘whoop’ at the anatomical memory, second a ‘whoops’ the realisation that this red hot poker shooting up my leg meant inflammation and third a look at my wellies and a self flagellation over the knowledge I would be recommending correct footwear for the activity to my clients, one must practice what one preaches!

So what is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is the medical term for the thickening of the plantar fascia, which lives in our heel. Pain occurs when this band of tissue in the foot, becomes damaged and thickens.

What is the Plantar Fascia?

The plantar fascia is a tough and flexible band of tissue that runs under the sole of the foot. It connects the heel bone with the bones of the foot, and acts as a kind of shock absorber to the foot. 

Sudden damage, or damage that occurs over many months or years, can cause tiny tears (micro-tears) to develop inside the tissue of the plantar fascia. This can cause the plantar fascia to thicken, resulting in heel pain.

The surrounding tissue and the heel bone can also sometimes become inflamed.

The lesson to me here is that I needed to have been listening to that niggling pain far sooner – it wouldn’t have had to start shrieking to get me to make some changes!

So as I sit here with my foot in the air, and an ice pack tied to it, what next?

As I know what I have done, I know how to treat it, but if I were talking to a client I might recommend they get it checked out by their GP.

There are a number of treatments that can help relieve heel pain and speed up your recovery. These include:

  • Resting your heel – try to avoid walking long distances and standing for long periods (poor dog, shorter walks unless husband or child can take over)
  • Regular stretching – stretching your calf muscles and plantar fascia 
  • Pain relief – using an icepack on the affected heel and taking painkillers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Wearing good-fitting shoes that support and cushion your foot – running shoes are particularly useful 
  • Using supportive devices such as orthoses (rigid supports that are put inside the shoe) or strapping the foot and heal.

Now, I am really resting it. Short walk with the dog, home to lie on bag with legs up the wall to relieve the pressure and as stated earlier, foot is now raised, anti-inflammatory taken, self massage of the leg and foot and have taken delivery of orthoses.

Orthoses? Yes, rigid supports for the inside of said wellies, which if this doesn’t work, then new walking boots perhaps. However, I personally prefer wellies and don’t like walking boots. I do walk in a lot of mud so any recommendations gratefully received.

The supports I use, having had a similar problem a few years ago when skiing, are made by Superfeet. These were recommended by the experts who were fitting my ski boots a couple of years ago (note: recognition of niggling pain, listen and learn from those niggles before they become shrieking nags) and wow, they made a difference but as I neither wear my ski boots daily (sadly) and the shoes that had the supports in died, I stopped using them. So I know, this will provide a relief and structure to my feet within the wellies, and the other shoes I wear during the day but I also realise something else…

As I said, this niggling pain has been there before, ski boots, wellies and my beloved UGG boots. UGGs are hated by many for their marmite like aesthetic but loved by me for their fleeced inners that keep the ice blocks I call feet warm, I recognise I have to be mindful of how I wear them, they don’t work for me if I am walking any distance and as I join the dots up to notice this pain, I know that they too will receive some supports. have some good advice around this.

But finally, while the supports are going to help with prevention once the inflammation heals, crucial will be massage and stretching the Achilles’ tendon. 

One of my clients, a regular runner who has had occurrences of plantar fasciitis before, always requests massage of her lower legs and feet for precisely this reason, she takes preventative measures by ensuring her running shoes are correct for her running gait (many specialist sports shops offer this service), happily she has not had an issue for a while but should you find yourself with niggling heel pain, listen to those heals: 

  • book a massage
  • ease up on the activity for a while
  • and consider is your footwear supporting you?

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