Understanding Plantar Fasciitis and what to do.
At the time that I am writing this summer is coming to an end. September is about to start. Kids and parents are gearing up to get back from work. And there is a chance that your heel still hurts. Especially when you get out of bed in the morning. Most likely you, like many other people, have developed a case of plantar fasciitis over your holidays.
What is plantar fasciitis? In short, you’ve injured a big band of tissue on the bottom of your foot that attaches to bone right at the heel on the bottom of your foot. Now I hear you saying “but I don’t remember doing anything, I just woke up and it hurt.” And in many respects, you’re right. Plantar fasciitis is an overuse injury. What that means is that you repeatedly put too much strain of your plantar fascia tissues. Walking on soft unstable surfaces, such as sand, in bare feet can cause this. Conversely, walking on harder surfaces like decks or sidewalks in loose supportive footwear, such as flip flops, can be another overuse producing situation.
Now, before I set the stage for a couple tips to help you along the way to getting better, I want to chat about the difference between an acute injury and a chronic injury. A chronic injury is an old injury. The longer an injury persists, the more the injured tissues and the surrounding tissues change and adapt. Acute injuries are fresh injuries (relatively speaking). This means that your body hasn’t tried to adapt in the same way to the injury and the tissues can get closer to returning to their original state faster. Obviously this is an over simplification, but if you are concerned please consult a local healthcare professional.
Thankfully, if you are reading this article and finding it helpful, you likely haven’t had a long standing (pun intended) issue with plantar fasciitis. It can therefore be assumed that your vacation induced injury is acute. So let’s see if we can give you a few tips to help you get rid of that vacation heel.
Wear supportive shoes: Now, in my opinion, ‘supportive shoes’ is a bit of an overused term. In this case, supportive shoes should make full contact with the bottom of your foot, especially along the middle part of your foot known as your arch. Secondly, they should have a good hold of your heel, keeping your foot from sloshing around in the shoe. The goal here is to reduce the strain on your plantar fascia tissues when you walk or stand by keeping the foot in a more neutral position. Another option, if you don’t think you have a pair of shoes that meet these requirements, would be to add a pair of off-the-shelf orthotics to your shoes. Just make sure that they make good contact with the bottom of your foot (specifically the rear half of your foot) and have a nice deep heel cup.
Use a night splint: A key characteristic that determines how well a night splint will work for can be answered by the question “how are your first few steps in the morning?” If your answer is “OMG, it hurts like H...”, then a night splint will quickly become your best friend. Your body is constantly trying to heal itself. The unfortunate thing is that it heals whenever, wherever and in whatever position you are in. When you sleep you tend to plantar flex (a fancy set of words for moving your ankle to point your toes down). Those of you that sleep on your back or stomach do it more that side sleeper. But you side sleepers will still do it, especially when the dull ache of your injured foot feels better with slight plantar flex. When your foot spends that long in that position your plantar fascia tissues heal short. Then when you stand up, all those weak freshly healed tissue fibres rip and tear over your first couple of morning steps. Then the next night and morning you rinse and repeat. A night splint keeps you from dipping your toes while you sleep and the plantar fascia tissues are able to heal at a normal length.
Rest and stretch: “Mamma Noooo! Anything by rest, I have things to do, places to be”. I’m sorry, this is over all the best thing to help you heal. You need to get off your feet and allow your body to do its work and repair itself. And, stretching is good for us no matter what state you're in, but focus on the calf muscles and toes will help keep the healing and surrounding tissues at a proper length. Some also think (including myself) that it can help prevent plantar fasciitis from occuring again.
If all goes well hopefully these tips will get you back to waking-up and going through your day with a skip in your step and a song on your lips! “Good Morning, Good Morning…”