Perhaps the most notorious injury in the running world is plantar fasciitis. This ailment has sidelined many a runner for weeks, months or even years. The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue that runs from the heel of the foot up to the toes. Its main purpose is the support the arch of the foot.
Occasionally, though, overuse causes small tears to form in the plantar fascia, which can lead to inflammation and pain. Because distance runs put the plantar fascia through so much strenuous work, we are more susceptible than most to an injury in this region. Though all runners can fall victim to plantar fasciitis, flat-footed and heavier runners are more at risk than lighter runners with higher arches.
Plantar fasciitis typically feels like a stabbing pain in the bottom of the foot, often near the heel. If you experience this pain, it is imperative that you contact a physical therapist immediately. Plantar fasciitis can degenerate quickly and, if treatment is not sought, can leave a runner in a state of chronic injury. Individuals struggling with severe cases of plantar fasciitis often feel pain throughout the day and that pain can last years.
Being proactive about seeking treatment at the onset of injury is the best way to ensure that plantar fasciitis is cured quickly and effectively. If you believe you may be suffering for plantar fasciitis, significantly decrease your mileage or stop running entirely as continued exercise can worsen the problem. Begin taking anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen to relieve pain and decrease any swelling.
One reason that plantar fasciitis may be occurring is that the shoes you are wearing may not have enough arch support. Employees at your local running store should be able to help you sort through this problem. These stores also often sell generic orthotics that will give your arches additional support. If you still feel pain, a podiatrist can prescribe custom orthotics for you. One thing I should mention regarding orthotics and supportive shoes is that they may feel uncomfortable initially, since they are giving your arch support that you are not used to. Over time, though, that support will greatly alleviate pain.
As stated earlier, physical therapists are trained to treat injuries such as plantar fasciitis. I recommend seeing one as early as possible if you feel you may have plantar fasciitis. They will analyze your physical makeup and give you a better idea of why the injury may be occurring. They will also give you exercises to strengthen the plantar fascia, which will help prevent a future re-occurrence of the injury. Here are a couple of exercises that can be used to prevent plantar fasciitis or to treat an existing case:
- Towel Pull: Place a towel on the ground and use your toes to pull it towards you. You can add weight to the far end of the towel to make this more challenging.
- Toe Stretch: From a sitting position, grab your toes and pull them towards you to stretch the plantar fascia.
- Standing Calf Stretch: Often plantar fasciitis stems from a tight calf. The standing calf stretch can help loosen the lower leg. Stand facing a wall. Outstretch your arms against the wall and put one leg forward in a bent position and one back, keeping it straight. Lean into the wall until you can feel a stretch in the calf of the straight leg.