It’s one of the most common running injuries and can become a nagging problem for runners. But what exactly is plantar fasciitis? And are those who have it doomed to life of pain?
We spoke with Dr. Scott Taylor, a podiatrist at the Estes Park Medical Center in Colorado and a Six Star finisher of the World Marathon Majors, to learn more about what causes plantar fasciitis — and how to avoid and treat it.
What Is It?
The plantar fascia is the tissue that supports your arch during the stance phase of your running gait. Taylor says when your foot is on the ground, your arch flattens and the fascia stretches — often beyond its limits. As a healing response, the fascia goes into recovery mode and becomes swollen. This inflammation causes pain and discomfort in the heel or arch of the foot.
While Taylor sees people of all activity levels with plantar fasciitis, runners are especially susceptible to this affliction because of the repeated stress on the essential muscles of the foot. Runners who underpronate or overpronate can be particularly sensitive to plantar fasciitis because of the added stress put on the foot muscles during each foot strike.
Is It Preventable?
Luckily, there are things you can do to avoid falling victim to the painful swelling of plantar fasciitis. Taylor stresses the importance of the right shoe to provide adequate foot support.
“Buy your shoes from a running-specific store versus a department store,” he advises. “Just because it’s labeled as a ‘running’ shoe doesn’t mean it’s going to be supportive.”
He also is a strong proponent for arch support to limit the amount of stretch in the fascia. Custom inserts are a great option if you can afford them, but over-the-counter inserts will also do the job. Taylor recommends SuperFeet insoles for both running and everyday shoes — he even uses them himself.
As a final, crucial prevention tactic, Taylor stresses the importance of a short running stride.
“When runners overstride, the fascia is under maximal stretch,” he says. “A short stride not only shortens the fascia, it also takes strain off the Achilles tendon and shin fascia — two other common places for running injuries.”
How to Treat It
For those who already suffer from plantar fasciitis, Taylor encourages using four main treatments: ice, anti-inflammatory medicines, medical tape and shoe inserts.
Ice packs and anti-inflammatories (such as ibuprofen) can be used when the injury is particularly painful, such as after a run or first thing in the morning. To ease the symptoms of plantar fasciitis on an ongoing basis, add arch support inserts to your shoes or learn to tape your feet for arch relief.
And contrary to commonly heard advice, Taylor says stretching your injured fascia is not a good recovery tactic.
“I like to compare plantar fasciitis to a cut on your skin,” he says. “To heal a cut, you want to leave it alone so the skin can fully repair. With plantar fasciitis, your tissue is in a scarring mode, and pulling at the scar tissue will not help it heal.”
Plantar fasciitis can be incredibly painful, especially for those logging long-distance runs, but with the right treatment and prevention methods, you’ll be running easy — and pain-free — in no time.