by Abby Mowinski
Plantar fasciitis (PF) is inflammation of the flat band of tissue (the plantar fascia) that connects your heel bone to your toes, and its function is to support your arch. The inflammation (the –“itis”) is caused by repeated strain to the ligament which results in tiny tears in the tissue and subsequent swelling and pain.
The causes of PF are multi-factorial: being overweight; having a high arch or, conversely, flat feet; ill-fitting shoes; excessive pronation; tight calves/Achilles; and drastic or sudden increased in mileage.
PF struck me acutely in mid June. But there were certainly some warning signs just prior that I had chosen to ignore. Through my mistakes, I can help others avoid making the same ones.
Don’t ignore the new aches and pains.
It started as niggling heel pain at the end of a PR 5K race. That “new” mild ache was simply my body’s early warning signs of fasciitis. It continued into my speed workouts, and culminated in massive pain in a beach sand 5k. We all have the predictable aches and pains, and through experience know how to rectify…but those completely new pains are worth extra attention and sincere time off.
Don’t change everything at once.
I was unable to get in immediately at the podiatrist for an X-ray to rule out stress fracture, so I self-diagnosed plantar fasciitis courtesy Dr. Google, and went to town with Superfeet inserts, KT taping, a new
brand of sneakers, the Strassburg Sock, an arch support sleeve, frozen water bottles, lacrosse balls, etc. I did everything possible to will it away except for one thing: REST. Not that rest wasn’t mentioned, but being the stubborn, I neglected to do the most important thing.
Respect your body.
We take care of our bikes, we replace our running shoes …why is it so hard for us to take care of our most important machine? As we get older, our bodies are less forgiving to repeated abuse. In college, I would get through a whole swim season of two-a-days on ice and 600mg of ibuprofen 3 – 4 times a day. Those times are gone. I now know that to keep my body from revolting against me, I need to schedule regular stretching, foam rolling, and, most importantly, rest. Specific to the PF, I have found the downward dog yoga pose the best at stretching out my Achilles. I also start every morning by flexing my toes upward with my hand and forcibly massaging my arch before I even get out of bed.
Stretching and massaging my arch has helped me
Know your body.
Just as PF is different for every athlete, every individual comes to the table with pre-existing issues to be recognized and mitigated. For me, it was my prior ACL tear and correction. I tore my ACL when I was 6 months pregnant and had to delay surgical repair, resulting in a fair amount of degenerative joint disease. When I saw the podiatrist, he put shims in the arches of my shoes, which immediately caused significant knee pain. I kept running with them, because that is what had been recommended, even though my
inner doctor was telling me that was the wrong move. It was my knees that created the most problems for me throughout last season.
A strong and consistent base is money in the bank.
Had it not been for the fitness base I had established over the winter of 2014 and spring of 2015, I would have never seen the 2015 season through to the end. The off-season and pre-season are a time to cut back on intensity, chunk up a little bit, but continue to log some distance. Although my running splits clearly suffered from cutting out in-season run training, I still had the fitness to push through and finish races due to my endurance base. And my will and competitive drive made up for the rest.
I should have sought a KT sponsorship last year!
So, where does that leave me? Fortunately, this past fall, I found a great physical therapist, who worked with me to address and correct many of the major imbalances I had “upstream” to my feet. I also had custom orthotics made, which I now wear religiously. My plantar fasciitis is managed but not resolved. I no longer shower in supportive flip flops, require any KT tape, or sleep in a supportive sock (thank goodness I am married to a man who loves me). I’m back in my reliable brand of running shoes because they feel best. I take a rest day after a hard effort or a race, and I warm up before every run. I do my best to stretch, roll, yoga, and strengthen. Finally, I’ve also been working on changing my running form (a lofty endeavor and certainly work-still-in-progress) to hopefully lessen future injuries.
Downward dog yoga pose works best for me in stretching my Achilles
In the end, plantar fasciitis has taught me some valuable lessons. That being said, I don’t want anyone to have to learn any lessons my way, so mull over my recommendations and incorporate those where applicable. Stay healthy, my friends!