Ask a PT: Is There an Actual Cure for Plantar Fasciitis?

Question 2

Aloha,

I’ve had plantar fasciitis for just over three months. It started from a rundown pair of Brooks, the cushion felt super hard during a run. The pain came almost immediately after the run. I dumped the shoes and have been going easy on it, spreading out runs further but the pain hasn’t disappeared, and sometimes it gets sharper the morning after a run and sometimes nothing, no pain.

The pain subsides after two or three days, [and by the] fifth day does result in less/no pain or pain. [This] seems to depend on the shoe I wear. I use some inserts specific to plantar fasciitis in my walking shoes, which do help the pain subside faster. I started toe raises and try to stretch my foot.

Is there an actual cure or am I going to have to learn how to live with it? And should I ice it? Is there a routine to do after a run that could help reduce the pain. Also [does] diet have any impact on the condition?

Thanks for any insights.

–Edward C.
Wailea, Maui

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Answer: Dr. Marc Robinson

Hi Edward,

Thanks for your question. Pain on the bottom of the foot—usually by the heel—in the morning or after the first few steps in the morning is a common symptom with plantar fasciitis. Plantar fasciitis typically results from connective tissue in the bottom of the foot breaking down. It appears there was an initial onset of injury from running in the pair of worn-out Brooks. At that time, you may have overstressed the plantar fascia or muscles in the bottom of the foot leading to a disruption in the integrity of those soft tissues.

Time and progressive loading of those structures will usually help those tissues to strengthen and adapt as you return to their normal running volume and intensity. Initially, you may need to unload and reduce the amount running. Taping or using shoe inserts can help to protect and unload the plantar fascia as the tissue heals. The inserts seem to be helping you already. As the tissue gets stronger, you can gradually increase the volume and intensity of training.

In addition, calf stretching can help to reduce the strain on the plantar fascia. The calf muscles become the Achilles’ tendon and the Achilles’ tendon attaches to the plantar fascia. By stretching the gastrocnemius and soleus, you can reduce strain on the plantar fascia. In addition, calf stretching can help improve ankle mobility.

Research supports the use of manual therapy as an effective treatment for plantar fasciitis. In the clinic, I have found aggressive instrument-assisted soft tissue mobilization (IASTM) to be effective. This involves using a metal tool to scrape or massage the bottom of the foot near the location of pain to stimulate a positive change to the tissue.

As a home exercise program, I recommend that my clients roll the bottom of the foot on a tennis ball or frozen water bottle to replicate the effects of this treatment. Please note the frequency and intensity of self-mobilization is important and depends on the response of the tissue. You would not want to keep rolling out the bottom of your foot if the pain worsens.

The same principles apply to stretching the plantar fascia. Gentle or more aggressive stretching may be indicated depending on the length of the plantar fascia. Is it too long or too short? The plantar fascia may be overstretched already, in which case one may not want to stretch it out more. An assessment helps to clarify these variables in treatment.

Yes, you can overcome plantar fasciitis and return to pain-free running; however, it will be beneficial to continue self-care strategies to stay out of pain. Ice can be used if you want. Ice is not going to harm you if applied properly. Nutrition plays an important role in the healing process of any injury. It will be beneficial to stay hydrated and minimize the consumption of processed foods and refined sugars. Maintaining a healthy pattern of eating, minimizing weight gain, reducing stress, and getting adequate sleep will promote an optimal environment for healing.

To help prevent plantar fasciitis, I would recommend the following:

  • Stretching the calves before and after running
  • Strengthening the muscles of the foot with exercises like toe curls, arch lifts and calf raises
  • Strengthening the gluteal muscles
  • Wearing proper shoes
  • Improving running mechanics
  • Dosing exercise and running appropriately

In summary, plantar fasciitis is multifactorial. Weakness of the foot muscles, poor activation of foot muscles, excessive pronation of the foot, decreased ankle mobility, shoe wear (as you learned the hard way) contribute to plantar fasciitis. Self-care may be sufficient for you to return to pain-free running; however, you may want to consider an assessment by a physical therapist who can isolate your specific weaknesses and help you improve those areas for the best long-term outcomes.

Keep moving,

Dr. Marc

Dr. Marc Robinson is a Physical Therapist in San Diego, CA who provides online physical therapy and virtual consultations for those who need on-demand help with injuries. His company, Evercore offers online injury prevention courses and fitness products to promote a pain-free, active life. They specialize in low back pain and helping their clients achieve health goals beyond what the traditional medical system can offer.

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