By Karyn Gallivan, MS, ATC, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, NASM-CPT
Contributor, Sports+Fitness Network
Often, when we get new personal training clients, it has been many years since they have been active. And, if they are consistent with a new fitness program (several times/week), little aches and pains will show up. Foot pain is one of these issues that can really hamper one’s fitness efforts because if their feet hurt, there really is no way that a walking program can be enjoyable.
Typically called plantar fasciitis, pain and soreness of the sole of the foot near the heel is a pretty common injury. It also can be a very challenging injury to treat. However, with a few basics, hopefully plantar fasciitis can be avoided altogether.
Plantar fasciitis simply refers to an inflammation of the plantar fascia –a long, thick, fibrous band of tissue that runs from the heel to the toes. The function of this fascia is to support the arch and to prevent it from collapsing. Unlike a tendon, which has the ability to stretch and re-form, the plantar fascia does not have this stretching property. Plantar fasciitis can result from over-pronation, flat feet, high arches, poor shoes, soft tissue damage from heel pounding or stepping on a stone, or sticking with a training program that asks for too much activity too soon. If any (or a combination) of these occurs, the plantar fascia can be repeatedly stressed with each step. The weakest point for this fascia is at its attachment to the heel (calcaneous). Many steps can lead to constant irritation, pain, and inflammation at this attachment of the fascia to the heel. Chronic stress can actually lead tearing of the soft tissue of the fascia, or heel spurs (from the body attempting to heal itself); both are very painful conditions.
Unfortunately, once someone finally begins an exercise program and they are determined to continue no matter what, further damage occurs and the pain increases. This pain is often most intense with the first few steps are taken in the morning. The best and immediate treatment should be rest. Either stop walking (or running) entirely, or cut way back and exercise on softer surfaces until the fascia heals (pain-free). The best treatment, however, is prevention through one or more of the following steps:
- Wear good shoes with flexible soles, adequate padding in the heels (but not too much), and arch support if necessary.
- Begin a lower leg, ankle, and foot flexibility & strengthening program.
- Pay special attention to the plantar fascia by stretching toes up toward the shin.
- Self-massage the fascia with thumbs, golf ball or tennis ball helps to break up any scar tissue and promote healing. (Always follow with ice)
- Orthotics, or simple arch supports, may be necessary; see a professional for help with this.
In the event that plantar fasciitis does develop, there are ways to treat it. Fortunately, this injury almost always improves, but the process is often slower than anyone wants it to be. Because of this, further injury –or a chronic condition, can develop. For those who do not want to stop training altogether while healing from this injury, cut the minutes and intensity way back, and stop any workout if the pain begins to increase. There can be simple, but effective treatments for plantar fasciitis, so, if treatment is started right away, one may never have to miss a single day of training!
Related: Is Plantar Fasciitis Ailing You? by By Dr. Michele Monaco, , DSc, ATC