Running, especially long-distance running is one of the main causes of Plantar Fasciitis. Plantar Fasciitis is an inflammation of the plantar fascia that causes heel pain. The plantar fascia is ligament that connects the base of the heel bone to the base of the toes and whose function is to help support the arch of the foot. Plantar Fasciitis is what is known as a “wear-and-tear” condition — it is mostly associated with overuse of the plantar fascia.
One of the main functions of the plantar fascia is to absorb the load and strain to which our feet are subjected. Obviously, we put the plantar fascia to work whenever we get on our feet, but there are particularly challenging circumstances in which that work can be overwhelming. Running, especially long-distance, is one of these circumstances. In these situations, overuse of the plantar fascia can cause small tears that will initiate an inflammatory response and cause heel pain.
If you already have Plantar Fasciitis, you risk worsening your injury while you run. But there are a number of preventive measures you can take to minimize the impact of running on your plantar fascia.
Wear supportive running shoes
Wearing adequate running equipment is fundamental. The amount of damage that bad running shoes can do to your feet is tremendous. Poor footwear can greatly magnify the impact that running will naturally have on your feet because the shoes you wear dictate the impact of each stride and the placement of your feet while you run.
Find the right running shoes for your feet. Your running shoes must be comfortable and fit you well. Shoes that are too tight or too loose will allow your feet to move around and will force you to land your foot in awkward positions while you run, even if you don’t notice it. Your shoes must also be stable and have a thick sole that diminishes the impact of your stride.
Good running shoes must also have good cushioning and arch support. Find running shoes with an arch cushion that fits your foot. It is very important that your shoes can physically support the arch to absorb the shock when you land your foot. Without physical support, you will be placing extra pressure on the plantar fascia. Shoes with removable insoles may be a good option, as they allow their replacement with the over-the-counter arch supports that will best fit your foot.
Don’t wear old shoes that have lost cushioning and stability, or with worn-out and uneven soles. These will cause unnecessary strain on the plantar fascia by making you land your foot at an awkward angle.
Enhance your running shoes
If your running shoes are not as supporting to your foot arch as they should be, you can adapt them with orthotics. Orthotics are orthopedic devices (heel pads, cups) you can place inside your shoes to add support to the arch and heel. You can buy over-the-counter inserts or get custom-made orthotics that will not only improve foot support, but may also make up for any biomechanical problems your foot may have.
Biomechanical factors such as over pronation (excessive rolling of the foot inward toward the arch) or high arched foot can predispose you to developing or worsening Plantar Fasciitis. This can be corrected with orthotics that support the arch, elevate and cushion the heel, stabilize and correctly aligning your foot, reduce pronation, and thereby diminish pressure and overuse of specific ligaments, tendons, muscles or bones.
Foot orthotics can be either over-the-counter prefabricated orthotics or custom-made orthotics. Custom-made foot orthotics have the significant advantage of being specifically designed to account for your individual needs.
Warm up and stretch before running
Always warm up by starting with a walk or a light run. A cold ligament is more likely to be injured with a sudden burst of activity. If you increase the speed and intensity of your run slowly and gradually, you will be preparing your plantar fascia to endure your main exercise.
Stretching is also fundamental in preventing use-related injuries. When you stretch, you increase the flexibility of the tissues. Tight ligaments, tendons and muscles in the feet and legs, not only the plantar fascia, but also the Achilles tendon and the calf muscles, are a major risk of injury because they help support and strengthen your foot. Taking a moment to stretch your feet and lower legs will help you warm up and prepare for the demand that will follow.
Adapt your running routine
Choose to run on a good track or on softer surfaces such as grass or trails; avoid hard surfaces such as asphalt and concrete as much as possible.
Importantly, if you’re running and feel pain in your feet, do not neglect it. It may be a sign that you’re overdoing it and that you should avoid the activities that are causing it.
Author Bio: Dr. Janet Pearl, Member of the American Pain Society, The Massachusetts Medical Society, the Massachusetts Society of Anesthesiologists, the Massachusetts Society of Interventional Pain Physicians and more. Received M.D. from the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons and received a M. Sc. in Health Planning and Financing at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Medical Director at the Center for Morton’s Neuroma and Fasciitis.com