Treating and preventing plantar fasciitis

For those who have never dealt with it, let me assure you that plantar fasciitis is a very annoying malady. I’ve had it twice, once about a decade ago and again over the last few weeks. When you have it, you just want it to go away. There’s nothing like foot (and back) pain when it comes to making pretty much your entire life difficult. It’s the kind of discomfort that’s perfectly suited to taking the fun out of even the most enjoyable activities.

The first time I had it, I was gleefully ignorant about questions regarding the causes of plantar fasciitis. Now, the questions about cause and prevention are very keen to me. The most simplistic explanations tend to point to improper (unsupportive) shoes and the need for proper arch support and maybe even orthotics. The more thought-provoking information contends that plantar fasciitis is actually caused by the weakening of the foot and that this weakening is caused by overly supportive shoes and the excess heel striking they encourage.

As an aside, I should say that my current battle with plantar fasciitis came after playing golf with minimalist golf shoes. Still, I’ve now come to see those shoes as less of the cause of my discomfort and more the things that pushed the progressive weakening of my feet into the fore. Two of the more interesting contentions from what I’ll call the unconventional plantar fasciitis information sources are these:

1) That arch supports don’t actually support the foot’s arch, they only serve to limit circulation to the area and weaken it. The logical foundation for this argument is the fact that structural arches do not derive their support from their centers but rather from the end, which would be the ball and heel of the foot.

2) That a lack of flexibility in the toes (particularly the big toe) contributes to plantar fasciitis. It’s said that the big toe should have 80 degrees of extension. This allows the toe to extend when the foot strides forward. But, when this kind of full extension is impossible (mine extends less than 50 degrees) it causes an excessive load to the root of the plantar arch and causes the foot to twist during the stride.

Putting these two contentions together brought me to the belief that my feet had suffered a cumulative injury. I could sense this before I had the informational ammunition to support the opinion. My feet just always felt squished into shoes and I had lost the ability to walk barefoot without feeling like I was putting my feet at risk.

It’s easy to conclude that regaining the strength and flexibility of my feet, toes and ankles are a priority. So far, I have done as much barefoot walking as possible, even at work and especially once I’m at home. I am also doing twice or three times daily massage of the rear of my foot using balls of various hardness (from golf balls to tennis balls).

I’ve also sought to walk more lightly and with less heel strike. That’s a big challenge because I tend to walk fast and I spend most of my time on very hard and frequently slick surfaces. It’s a all very much a work in progress but I am optimistic.

By the way, I have found both of these sites to be invaluable:

A physical therapy website with a great treatment guide for plantar pain sufferers.

An excellent video explaining the role of big toe flexibility in plantar pain.

Treating and preventing plantar fasciitis

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