PF I LOVE YOU – NOT
I chose to ignore a familiar niggle in my foot last summer. I’d been complaining for a few weeks about tight calves but hadn’t got around to a sports massage and kept walking past the foam roller at home making a mental note to use it later. Then one morning in July I was brought to a halt by a pain in my foot that I can only describe as an explosion. I’d had Plantar Fasciitis in my other foot a couple of years before and so recognised the niggle but hadn’t experienced pain to this degree with it. I hobbled home, iced it and strapped it with KT tape and the aid of a You Tube instruction video and told myself to take a few days off. It was six months before I ran outdoors again, apart from one occasion in September when I thought I was ready and attempted a 2min slow jog/3min walk session which resulted in me pulling my trainer off and throwing it on the floor before collapsing in tears of frustration on a bench in Knole Park, after the pain kicked in. Not my finest hour, I’ll admit.
The Plantar Fascia is a flat band of tissue made up of ligaments that connects your heel to your toes, stretching along the length of your foot and supporting the arch. These ligaments can experience quite a lot of wear and tear just from day to day life but too much pressure can lead to it becoming inflamed which can then result in heel pain and the start of the problem. Plantar Fasciitis (PF) can begin with a dull ache or bruised feeling around the bottom of the foot which gradually worsens over time. As it becomes more extreme it can turn into more of a burning pain and can travel up the back and/or the inside of your heel. This pain is generally worse in the morning when you first get up out of bed and after sitting for a long period of time when it can catch you off guard as you stand up.
Research shows that females are more prone, as are over 40’s. High arches or flat feet also make you more at risk and being overweight can also be a factor. Wearing shoes with no arch support, eg, slippers and flip flops, doesn’t do you any favours and a tight Achilles, the tendon that attaches the calf muscle to the heel, can also lead to issues. Being an over 40 female with high arches, tight calves and carrying a bit more weight than I should that works from home in slippers, I guess you could say I ticked all the boxes.
You don’t always have to stop running with PF but it is better to stick to flat terrains and avoid hills. In milder cases any discomfort can go away after a few minutes or will just ache afterwards but not during exercise. But if it is painful to run, then don’t. The most frustrating thing about PF is there is no time limit to when it will be better. It was six months before I could run outdoors for a reasonable length of time without pain and a further few months before I ran without arch support. Any doctor or physio will tell you it will get better but you can’t put a timescale to it. In the meantime there are several things you can do to try and speed up the healing process.
To begin with I spent around 30 minutes, twice a day rolling a plastic coke bottle under my foot that had been filled with water and left in the freezer. The curves of the bottle make it ideal for getting into the arch of your foot and the coldness helps with inflammation. This is easier to do in the summer when it is warmer and you don’t mind your foot going slightly numb. A massage ball can also do a good job without the cold and it is also a good habit to get into generally when you’re watching tv, to help prevent PF returning. Calf stretches are essential and if you google it you will find plenty of variations that will also extend to the Achilles. Remember, the Achilles goes all the way up to the bottom of your calf muscle and isn’t just by your heel. Foam rollers work well with this and are also a good habit to get into for keeping calves loose when back to running on a regular basis.
When you’re not stretching or rollering, it is still important to do as much as you can for your foot. I swapped my slippers for orthopaedic flip flops (they do come in cool designs, honestly!) or an elasticated arch support to wear with shoes in colder or wetter weather. After the Knole Park episode a physio friend suggested buying a foot spa and using it for twenty minutes every day. By this point I had exhausted every other option and was willing to try anything that might help. The PF pain had already peaked but was still bad enough to prevent me from running. After using the foot spa for two weeks I really noticed the difference and could finally see light at the end of the tunnel. When I started back with some short treadmill runs I continued to use the spa afterwards to help prevent the chance of inflammation returning.
Once it has gone it is important to take measures to ensure it doesn’t return. We all know that stretching after is important but so is stretching on rest days. Feet are probably the most neglected part of the body but getting the foot spa out a couple of times a month or having a foam roller and/or massage ball to hand might just save you a few weeks or months of burning pain and frustration.