I have had more kind words of advice to help me recover from plantar faciitis these past few months than I can count from friends, family, Twitter, Facebook and blog followers and even complete strangers.
I’ve been battling this affliction off and on since 1995 when it first reared it’s evil head after I finished the Santa Barbara Chardonnay 10 mile race and got micro-tears in my Achilles tendon. (I still remember that awful popping sensation in my right Achilles tendon just above my heel in the last mile of the race as I strove for 2nd place.) I PR’d that day but I paid a terrible price. After limping into the finishers area my running would never be the same. The Achilles tendonitis forced me to drop out of Canadian Ironman and eventually, I developed a case of plantar faciitis on my left foot–my “good” foot–while trying to recover from it. The Achilles tendonitis healed completely after a few months or so of no running. However, the plantar faciitis wouldn’t go away until I got pregnant with my first child and stopped running completely for about 5 months. The plantar faciitis came back again after I did the Catalina Marathon in March 2000. To combat it I wore my own homemade arch supports, eschewed wearing flip-flops, got deep tissue sports massage and cross-trained for a few months. It really didn’t go away for another year. Later, I was able to train for and completed several more marathons, including the heinously fun Big Sur Trail Marathon in 2003, and later qualified for Boston. My last long, 15+ miles, run was the Boston Marathon in 2004.
To date, my current case of plantar faciitis began after I increased my running mileage too quickly in Dec’08 after joining a local running club. I was working, being mom and juggling writing a difficult research paper then, so I had very little time to train. I was doing the long running club road runs on the weekends (10-14 miles) while only running 2-3x during the week (5 miles). In hindsight this was stupid and I knew better. The pain got worse and by six months later I couldn’t run a step without pain. I also had two secondary injuries: hip bursitis (right side) and lower back pain. I tried changing running shoes: first buying a new pair of my usual cushioned and structured New Balance running shoes, the NB 1224, then when my heal still hurt, I went for less structure and switched to Brooks Cascadia trail shoes. I also bought a running video of a running technique developed by Ken Mierke called Evolution Running that was mentioned by Christopher McDougal as one of the curatives for his own case of chronic plantar faciitis and Achilles tendonitis in the recent published best selling book, Born to Run. Nothing worked.
What I have tried
This summer, treat my plantar faciitis, I’ve been doing “everything but the kitchen sink”. Beginning in June I stopped running and focused on cross-training in swimming, cycling and weights. I bought a pair of last year model racing flats, Brooks T5s, and used those to walk around in with Superfeet orthotics (the green high arch model) as soon as I got out of bed in the morning. My kids got sick of me wearing those same “tiger stripe” garish racing flats everyday for three months.
I got the book Injury Afoot by Patrick Hafner on treatments that I could do to recover from plantar faciitis and did tried everything in the book. In hindsight, I was stretching too early, re-injuring the facia. I guess I also wasn’t diligent enough in never walking barefoot. I was re-injuring the facia as soon as I got out of bed in the morning when I walked barefoot into the bathroom and when I walked barefoot from my car to the beach for my 2-3x/week open water swims.
In addition, I’ve been treating the the plantar faciitis in my left foot with monthly Rolfing sessions (if you try this, bring a piece of wood to chew on, it’s deep tissue work and can get uncomfortable), ice (1-2x/day, 10-15 min each), Advil (2-4/day as needed for pain), sleeping with a night splint, deep tissue work on the foot, seeing an orthopedic surgeon foot specialist, wearing Superfeet orthotics or a heal lift given to me by the orthopedic surgeon, avoiding barefoot walking and running, and stretching. I have even tried denying and ignoring the pain. But as my Rolfer, who is a happily married man, said, jokingly, treating plantar faciitis is like marriage: It will only get better if you don’t ignore your spouse or deny him. (I thought that was hilarious by the way. Men…*rolls eyes*)
During my summer of plantar faciitis, at about every 4 weeks, I would do something stupid. In desperation, one beautiful dawn morning while visiting Leucadia, a north county San Diego Meca for old school triathletes, I tried barefoot walking and jogging on the hard packed sand of Moonlight beach for 30 minutes. Another morning, I tried jogging in my socks on a treadmill (only 1 mile) after being inspired by the barefoot running tweets and articles I have been reading. Both times had disappointing and painful results. (At least the beach run was pretty.)
Nothing I have done has worked for longer than 1-2 days. Even the deep tissue massage and Rolfing didn’t work for longer than a day or so. Sure, my foot felt great afterwards (my whole body felt great!), but the classic symptoms of tendon tightness in my arch with swelling from adhesions at the front of my heal and sharp pain (like an ice pick jabbing violently in my heal) returned after a day or so of tentative bliss.
What I have not tried
I had not tried aqua-jogging, acupuncture, cortisone shots, surgery, seeing a shaman, praying to the Virgin Mary, taking supplements, meditation or wearing a cast. 😉 For now, I am trying the cast method. eating mostly fruits and vegetables to boost my healing antioxident intake and to cut out empty calories from starches and fats so I don’t gain weight. I hope that by immobilizing my foot in a cast for 4 weeks and keeping all pressure off my plantar facia, then it will be able to heal itself. After that I will look at my running mechanics and footwear with an experienced running coach.
Someday I hope to be able walk and eventually run long distances without debilitating pain. If those Tarahumara can kick as in their forties, fifties and sixties running twenty, fifty or hundred miles on mountainous trails wearing nothing but thin tire sandals that they made for themselves for free, there must be some way to recover from this affliction.
For now, I just hope the cast and the diet of fruits and veggies work.