How Runners Should Treat Plantar Fasciitis

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Any injuries that affect the foot are hard for runners to manage. Your feet are the one tool you NEED to run, and if they’re painful or inflamed, what usually brings you joy may suddenly become your worst pain.

Plantar fasciitis is one of those conditions that runners dread. And unfortunately, it’s not uncommon. However, understanding how runners should treat plantar fasciitis pain will help you get back on your feet as soon as possible.

Once you know how to identify plantar fasciitis, you can treat it early and reduce your recovery time. Here’s what you need to know about this condition.

What Is Plantar Fasciitis?

Plantar fasciitis is a common foot condition where the plantar fascia—the thick band of connective tissue in the arch of the foot—becomes inflamed and painful. It’s one of the most common causes of heel pain, and can be acute or chronic.

Is Plantar Fasciitis Common in Runners?

Although runners aren’t the only people who are prone to plantar fasciitis, it does affect a lot of runners. Studies show that it’s the most common general injury among runners!

Due to the location of the plantar fascia—underneath the arch of the foot and connected to the calf muscle via the Achilles tendon—it can easily become injured during running.

Running places a lot of strain on the plantar fascia. The arch absorbs shock when we run, so if your running shoes aren’t adequately supporting your feet and absorbing shock on landing, the plantar fascia takes on that impact.

This makes runners more prone to developing plantar fasciitis, especially if they also spend long hours on their feet during working hours or take part in other high-impact sports or activities outside of running.

What Causes Plantar Fasciitis?

Multiple things can cause plantar fasciitis. In some cases, more than one cause can contribute to the foot condition, but they all involve excess strain being placed on the foot, particularly in the area of the arch. Some common causes include:

  • High-impact activities: The excess impact can cause damage to the plantar fascia and cause micro-tears to develop.
  • Wearing the wrong shoes: Running shoes that lack the correct arch support can be a huge contributor.
  • Flat feet or high arches: People with naturally flat feet or high arches may be more prone to PF pain, although wearing the right shoes can help.
  • Long hours standing/walking: Being on your feet for many hours can cause the foot tissues to become overworked, especially on hard surfaces.
  • Excess weight: Caring extra weight places stress on the plantar fascia, as the feet take on 2 or more times our full bodyweight. Wear good shoes if you are overweight.
  • Changes in activity: Increasing your activity frequency, intensity, or duration too quickly can cause pain in the tissues and muscles that aren’t used to it.
  • Tight calf muscles: If the calves are tight, they can end up creating tension in the plantar fascia, leading to pain. This is common in runners who do a lot of hill workouts, who overstride, and who neglect calf stretches as part of their warm-up and cool-down.

Symptoms of Plantar Fasciitis in Runners

The most common symptom, and the one most often noticed first, is a sharp shooting pain in one or both heels when you get out of bed in the morning. It usually eases up after taking a few steps, but it’s unmissable.

You may also feel this foot pain when you get up after sitting for a few hours. It’s also common to experience heel pain when standing on hard, unforgiving surfaces for extended periods of time and after exercising, but not during your workout.

Other symptoms include a stiff feeling under your foot, a tender spot just before your heel pad, arch pain, swelling under the foot, and tightness in the calf.

Can You Run With Plantar Fasciitis?

The answer is different for everyone, so you’ll need to figure out your own case of plantar fasciitis before deciding. For some, pushing through is possible, but it can be excruciating for others.

If you follow prevention measures and learn how to treat your feet after a run to prevent plantar fasciitis pain, it’s perfectly possible to run with plantar fasciitis.

You can continue to run, but if the pain increases, you may need to shorten your runs. Take note of how the pain subsides after your run as well—if it sticks around for 24 hours or more, you probably need to rest the foot.

How Does Plantar Fasciitis Affect Runners?

If you’re running with plantar fasciitis, it could affect your running in more ways than you realize. Firstly, even if you aren’t feeling the pain noticeably when you run, the strain on the plantar fascia may change your gait.

This is particularly true if your plantar fasciitis is caused by wearing the wrong shoes. A skewed gait can lead to poor running form, exacerbating the problem.

Poor form can reduce your running efficiency, affecting your performance negatively. Plus, it can also make you more prone to injury.

Also, severe plantar heel pain can even rob you of your enjoyment of running. Knowing that you’re going to experience that arch pain after a run can be enough to make you want to stop running.

Tips for Runners With Plantar Fasciitis

Struggling with plantar fasciitis and wondering how to run without pain? Here are some of the best tips to run with plantar fasciitis.

Wear the Right Shoes for Your Feet

This one action could save your feet. If you’ve never determined your arch type or had a gait analysis, now is the time! Find out if you’ve got flat feet or high arches, because this is key to understanding what kind of shoes you need.

You can get your feet checked in a running store or do the wet cardboard test at home. Wet your feet and stand on a piece of cardboard. If the wet strip and the empty space under your arch are roughly the same size, you’re a neutral foot.

If you can see a very thin wet strip in the arch area, you’ve most likely got high arches. On the other hand, if you see an almost complete footprint with little to no dry space where the arch is, you’re most likely flat-footed and need stability shoes.

Once you know this, you can buy supportive shoes to suit your feet and with proper arch support. As well as having the correct arch support, it’s essential that you choose a shoe with good shock-absorbing cushioning.

Try Shoe Inserts or Orthotics

If you don’t want to replace your running shoes entirely, try a pair of orthotics for arch support. You can find some shoe inserts over the counter, but if you want the best support possible, you can get a custom orthotic made by a podiatrist.

Just be careful. This often makes plantar pain go away; however, it weakens the tendon and may increase the amount of time it takes to recover.

Use a Night Splint

This handy contraption keeps the band of tissue under your foot in a flexed position during the night. It sounds uncomfortable, but night splints are usually soft and fairly comfortable.

Keeping the foot in this position prevents the plantar fascia from relaxing too much, which can lead to that burning heel pain when you first get up, and the tissue stretches as you take your first step.

Stretch Your Plantar Fascia Daily

It’s worth taking a few minutes every morning to stretch your foot gently before you get out of bed. The initial pain of plantar fasciitis occurs because the arch has relaxed during the night, so stretching it suddenly can cause damage to the tissue.

Gently stretching it before you get out of bed can make a huge difference. Not only does it cause the tissue to “wake up,” but it also encourages circulation, which reduces pain and increases healing. You can actually do this multiple times a day if you wish to.

Avoid Sudden Increases in Training

As tempting as it may be to push ahead, stick to gentle increases in your training. Whether you’re increasing the frequency of your runs, the intensity of your runs, the distance, or the duration, you should stick to an increase of 5 to 10 percent per week at the most.

This will allow your body to adapt to the new activity level rather than pushing it too hard and increasing your risk of injury.

Prioritize Warm-Ups and Cool-Downs

Don’t neglect warm-ups. Warming up gives you the chance to get blood flowing through the plantar fascia, which means it’s more ready to work without being injured. Some gentle stretching and light cardio is a good idea here, just 5 to 10 minutes.

Cooling down is also essential. This gives your heart rate some time to come down, and also gives your muscles a chance to relax. We’d advise gently stretching your plantar fascia here as well.

Avoid Running on Hard Surfaces

If possible, switch up your running surface to something softer. Concrete, sidewalks, asphalt, and other hard surfaces can be unforgiving on the joints and arch.

Wherever possible, try to run on softer, more forgiving surfaces. The track is an excellent choice, as it takes significant impact away from the running motion.

Grass and trails are also good options, so switch things up if you can. Your feet will thank you for it!

Include Cross-Training In Your Routine

If running is your only exercise, it might be time to change that. Running is a high-impact sport that can strain the plantar fascia, so switching out some of your running sessions with lower-impact cross-training is wise.

You don’t need to stop running, but reducing your running and adding cross-training activities can make a big difference. Choose low-impact exercises, like swimming, rowing, cycling, and elliptical, which place no excess stress on your feet.

Strength training can also help, especially if you’re including lower leg workouts that can build strength in the calves and the ankles.

Try Taping Your Plantar Fascia

Taping can work well to support the plantar fascia and alleviate pain. There are multiple ways of taping for plantar fasciitis, but they’re all aimed at providing extra arch support and reducing pressure on the plantar fascia during movement.

Massage Your Feet and Calves

Massage is an excellent way to stimulate circulation in the plantar fascia and reduce pain. You can do it yourself or get someone else to do it for you.

The plantar fascia itself may be painful to the touch but can benefit from light massage. The calves should also be massaged, as tight calf muscles can contribute to a tight plantar fascia. Rubbing the calf muscles can ease PF pain significantly.

Use a Frozen Water Bottle or Golf Ball

Rolling your plantar fascia over a frozen water bottle combines massage and cold therapy for an excellent therapy on a sore plantar fascia.

You may need to do this on a towel, not on the floor, as the frozen water bottle may begin to melt as you roll your foot over it. Press your foot down until you feel enough pressure to ease the pain, but not so hard that the pain worsens as you roll.

Alternatively, roll your foot over a golf ball or lacrosse ball.

Strengthen Your Feet

Weak foot and lower leg muscles can contribute to plantar fasciitis. Strengthening these muscles can reduce your chance of suffering from plantar fasciitis, and can improve your recovery as well.

Incorporate exercises like calf raises, toe curls, toe raises, and single-leg squats with proper form to increase the strength in your foot and leg muscles.

Consider Going for Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can help to ease inflammation in the plantar fascia, promote good circulation, and ease pain. It can significantly speed up recovery time, especially when paired with rest and other measures to treat the condition.

A physical therapist may also have some good advice on how to handle plantar fasciitis at home or some exercises to strengthen your foot muscles.

Rest and Modify Your Exercise

Rest is essential to give the plantar fascia time to heal. You need to give it enough time to rest between high-impact exercises, or there’s no time for the inflammation to subside, making it more difficult for the affected foot to get better.

If your plantar fasciitis has flared up, consider adding extra rest to your routine for a week or two and modifying your exercise routine to accommodate your foot. Switch our running for low-impact cross-training for a week or two, and do some foot-strengthening exercises during this period as well.

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AUTHOR

Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.