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Plantar Fasciitis: My Nemesis

2010/04/15

Aside from occasional sore muscles, my first modern* running pain or injury occurred last fall. It began sometime in November, a sharp pain in the left heel that hurt the worst when first getting out of bed, but gradually lessened the more I walked throughout the day. At first it wasn’t so bad, and I thought I was just getting old, that my body had decided to punish me for getting out of bed at 4am during the week to go to work. I’d find myself limping to the bathroom half awake to get ready. Some mornings I’d wake up my wife with that first step out of bed when I yelled, “AH, SHIT!” it was so painful, like a nail had been sticking up through the floor a couple inches and driven deep into my heel.

I didn’t immediately relate the pain to running because the issue with the heel began nearly a month after my running season temporarily ended. But after a few runs in January and February, the pain greatly worsened, to the point that I’d feel it throughout the entire day instead of just mornings. Finally, I did what any person who tries to avoid doctors as much as possible would do: I Googled “foot pain.”

Now, before this point, I was oblivious to nearly everything pertaining to running aside from putting on socks and shoes and hitting the pavement. I knew injuries could occur, but didn’t know specifics, and other than stretching, had no clue about how to avoid injury. I mostly just hoped for the best.

After looking at a few sites, I found the perfect description of my problem and a name for it. Plantar fasciitis. Wonderful…

Symptoms? According to the Mayo Clinic:

In most cases, the pain associated with plantar fasciitis:

  • Develops gradually
  • Affects just one foot, although it can occur in both feet simultaneously
  • Is worst with the first few steps after awakening, although it also can be triggered by long periods of standing or getting up from a seated position
  • Feels like a sharp pain in the heel of your foot

Great. And so I began looking for methods of relief. Initially, every suggestion I found was inconvenient or costly. The one relief method I had already been using was ibuprofen – four every morning it seemed for a while. Other recommendations included corticosteroid shots, physical therapy, night splints, orthotics, shock therapy, and in extreme cases, surgery to detach the plantar fascia from the heel (I’m surprised I didn’t find amputation listed as well).  Then I came across an idea I should have already realized: shoes are the problem, and bare feet are the natural solution. I had RE-epiphany, having already been disillusioned with shoes before.

Barefoot runners maintain that they not only experience fewer injuries, including PF, but than shod runners because barefooting strengthens the muscles, tendons and tissues in the feet and legs, thus attributing to injury prevention. Furthermore, shoes seems to be the cause of many injuries in the first place. And orthotics? Egads! That’s adding insult to injury! Running barefoot changes the runner’s form and body mechanics to encourage a more natural stride, how the human body was intended to run.

So now I am on a slow transition to barefooting. At the moment I’m stillrunning mostly in shoes because I’m running a half-marathon in just three weeks and I won’t be ready to barefoot – or run in my Vibram Five Fingers – but I am looking forward to being past that race so I can train more intensely without overstuffed shoes, and so begin to relieve the stress shoes have caused my feet for so long.

The day after I took a brisk three mile walk in my Vibrams, my plantar fasciitis noticeably lessened, only to be re-aggravated with a run the next day in shoes. For me, personal experience is truly the only way to know anything with absolute certainty, and so far, my experience tells me most shoes supposedly designed for performance and comfort are in fact creating the opposite.

*(see Bare Beginnings, 2010/03/17)

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